LEWISTON — A Bates College junior inspired by fellow students who couldn’t be bothered to take their refrigerators home for the summer — or even to move them to avoid a $75 room-cleaning fine from the college — last year created a business of buying and selling used dorm fridges.

Later this month, Mitch Newlin is expanding Re-Fridge to 15 other college campuses in Maine and Massachusetts.

The economics major and Brunswick native anticipates buying 500 to 1,000 fridges to resell next fall to other college students. His venture is a mix of entrepreneurship, environmentalism and doing good: 20 percent of Re-Fridge‘s profits are dedicated to charity. The largest recipient is a Kenyan orphanage that the 22-year-old has visited five times.

“I saw more joy and happiness and appreciation than I’ve ever seen anywhere,” said Newlin, talking about his first visit to the Kakamega Orphans Care Centre. “Americans don’t even appreciate a fridge; these children are appreciating a pencil.”

As a freshman, Newlin said he was “blown away” when at the end of the year, students on his floor left behind in their rooms three refrigerators, one television and a futon. 

“It was $500 to $600 of stuff, sitting there,” he said. “They didn’t have room in their car, they didn’t care about the fine, they didn’t care about leaving it behind.”

Abandoned furniture and clothes have gone into the college’s popular Clean Sweep sale for the past several years, and students can avoid that fine by taking the items to a common area, according to a college spokesman.

Last spring, after putting out a call on Facebook, and using his parents’ SUV and trailer for pickups, Newlin flipped 50 fridges. He pays students $10 to $50, depending on their fridge’s size and condition, and resells them for $60 to $195, with free to-your-door delivery and pickup. His expenses include business insurance, gas and short-term storage.

Part of his sales pitch: undercutting big-box stores by at least $20 and guaranteeing the unit will work or he’ll haul another one over.

He’s expanding this spring to other colleges, including Bowdoin, Colby and Husson, with a representative on each campus to organize pickups, which he anticipates happening in a last-minute flurry between May 15 and 30 as the school year comes to an end.

He’ll employ between 25 and 50 people, depending upon how many fridges come in and how many need cleaning.

Newlin, who prior to Re-Fridge ran another business he started at Bates, a to-your-dorm-door gelato delivery service, said that after graduation he’d like to get involved in micro-loans, Third World development and entrepreneurship. He hopes Re-Fridge might help pay for some of that work.

He’s been involved with the Friends of Kakamega, which helps fund the Kenyan orphanage for children who’ve lost parents to AIDs and other diseases, since he was a teen.

“Maximizing profit is not my sole goal,” he said. “I want to have happy customers and also feel good about what I’m doing.”

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