Students face steep fees, lose belongings in scramble to retrieve storage boxes

Media Credit: File Photo by Eric Lee

From packing to transport to shipping, students say each step of the storage process has been fraught with uncertainty and poor communication.

Junior Mimi L’Engle paid $700 to ship home her belongings from International House – some of which didn’t make the trip back.

L’Engle said after asking Storage Squad – one of the three companies that moved out students’ belongings in March – for shipping quotes, company representatives told her they couldn’t report shipping fees to students until packages were already on the way. Preparing for another several months away from GW, L’Engle said she decided to ship without knowing the cost, ultimately paying hundreds to receive several boxes “torn apart” with damaged kitchen appliances and broken glasses. One box of bedding didn’t show up at all, she said.

With classes still online and more people left without a path to reclaim their belongings, students like L’Engle have had to navigate sometimes faulty lines of communication with moving companies responsible for handling their personal possessions in the spring and summer. L’Engle is one of 10 students who said poor planning, weak communication, steep fines and lost possessions have riddled the University’s COVID-19 packing program that officials began in March and will expire at the end of September.

“Essentially, it’s like they’re saying that you cannot get an estimate at all, which is really frustrating,” L’Engle said.

Representatives from Storage Squad, Interstate Moving and JK Moving did not return multiple requests for comment.

Last spring, students said the moving program lacked coordination, and now with classes online and fall plans in flux, those issues have in some cases worsened.

When L’Engle was deciding whether she should ship her items back in July, the movers told her she either needed to donate materials too large to fit into packing boxes, like furniture, a fan and a mirror, or someone would need to come to the storage facility to grab the items for her, she said. L’Engle said she donated all her large items because company representatives did not provide alternative options.

“It’s frustrating because I felt like the entire time I was having to advocate by myself and that GW wasn’t doing a good enough job at helping us, that I was just kind of on my own,” L’Engle said.

Assistant Dean of Students Seth Weinshel and Assistant Dean of Residential Engagement Stewart Robinette sent an email to students earlier this month that announced a new “continued storage” option following the decision to move classes online. The email states that students should not consider items damaged if they are still usable.

“During any packing and re-delivery process, one should expect a reasonable amount of settling while boxes are being moved,” the email states. “As such, some items may have scuffs or other marks and should not be considered damaged if they are still able to be used.”

The email states that students should visit the University’s lost items website if any of their belongings cannot be found. Weinshel and Robinette said if a student receives a package of temporarily lost belongings, that student may also find someone else’s possessions in the mix, in which case they should report the items online.

Cara Lee, a junior from Maryland, said she picked up her residence hall room belongings from the Interstate Moving warehouse in late July but found a rotten banana wrapped up in her load of packaged materials when she got home.

“It was honestly just completely dehydrated,” she said. “It was rock solid, and I think looked at it, and I was like, ‘Wait, this is a banana.’”

Lee said she lost between $25 to $30 of possessions that included a laundry rack, a ceramic bowl and kitchen knives. She said the rest of her items were stored in good condition and her communication with the moving team was “pretty smooth.”

Lee said her vicinity to the warehouse was helpful to her during the process because she could drive over to the storage unit and pick up her possessions.

“I could definitely see if you didn’t have a car, if you didn’t have an extra set of hands, it probably would have been really difficult to even get there in the first place,” she said.

Junior Meaghan Walsh said when she asked Storage Squad for a shipping estimate earlier this month, they sent her an online calculator that she couldn’t use because the company representatives never told her how many boxes she had. Walsh said she took advice from students posting on the Facebook page Overheard at GW to determine her shipping cost.

“That was helpful that I could rely on the GW community, but I really shouldn’t be relying on the GW community when Storage Squad is the company,” she said.

Walsh said she decided to drive to the Storage Squad warehouse and retrieve her items, which she plans to do later in September.

In the email sent earlier in August, Weinshel and Robinette said GW will no longer be responsible for belongings on Sept. 30, and all unclaimed property in October will be considered “abandoned” and removed from the storage facility.

“We pledge to keep working with you these next couple of weeks to reunite you with your belongings,” the email states. “As we work together, all of us – the GW team and the three moving companies – ask for your patience and understanding as we continue to do our best under extenuating circumstances to care for you and your belongings.”

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