Students lose belongings in coronavirus shipping and storage accommodations

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

560 Lincoln and Kemper Hall. When students hurried home in March in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, many left most of their belongings behind in hopes that they would be back for Spring Quarter.

Binah Schatsky, Assistant Campus Editor

When the pandemic upended housing plans, many students could not return to pack up belongings — a closet full of clothes, electronics and sometimes wads of cash — left behind in their dorm rooms in March.

In an April 14 email, Residential Services detailed the accommodations it would offer to Northwestern students who left campus due to COVID-19.

The University had contracted two independent companies: Reebie Storage and Moving Company, which would pack leftover student belongings, and University Student Services, which would handle shipping and storage.

“We would not be offering this program if we did not have confidence in the services provided by USS and Reebie, our preferred vendors,” Carlos Gonzalez, executive director of Residential Services, wrote.

For many students, the process did not go as planned.

On Sept. 16, Communication junior Jenna Howard-Delman posted a yes or no poll in the NU Class of 2022 Facebook group with the following question: “Did Northwestern University lose/dispose of belongings you wanted to keep?”

As of Thursday evening, the poll garnered 68 responses, with 39 voting their belongings had been lost or disposed of.

Howard-Delman emailed Reebie instructions about the contents she needed and spoke to Reebie over FaceTime, but a significant portion of her belongings were left behind and ultimately disposed of.

“First and foremost, I did not do everything perfectly,” Howard-Delman said, referencing waiting too long to contact the company. “However, the mistakes I made should not have resulted in what happened.”

The lost items, which Howard-Delman said came out to about $5,000 in value, included winter boots, high heels, bedding and skincare products.

Communication junior Tyler Felson said Reebie did not pack any of his belongings for storage. The total value of the items Felson had left in his room — including dress shoes, a winter jacket and a suit jacket — came out to $1,215.19, according to Felson’s estimate. Felson does not know what happened to his belongings, and assumes they were thrown out.

“Thankfully, it’s not winter yet, so I have the things that I need, for the most part,” Felson said. “And, honestly, if there’s anything that this whole time of our lives has taught me is that I don’t need that much s–t to get by and be happy.”

According to Reebie CEO Richard Licata, the project — which involved moving the belongings of about 1,700 students and required about 60 moves per day — was an “unusual” task for the company that usually handles office and building closures, turnovers and similar tasks at NU.

Licata said that of those 1,700 students, Reebie heard reports of mistakes from just 40, which is about 2 percent. He also explained that the University seems to have not communicated certain restrictions to its students. For example, Reebie was unable to pack liquids and gels such as skincare and certain medicines.

Licata noted several stories in which Reebie packers found cash in student rooms — in one instance as much as $1,600 — after which the company contacted the University to return the money to the students. He also noted that accounts manager Robert LoBianco returned to campus about 100 times to personally retrieve items students reported were left behind in the packing process.

“If (students) had anything that was essential… they could make arrangements to get that stuff ahead of time before we went in to pack,” Licata said. “If I had $1,500 stashed in a drawer, I would definitely have contacted the University.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @BinahSchatsky

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