Most of the 7,000 full-time students who live on the University of Pennsylvania's West Philadelphia campus have gone home for the summer, but, oh, the things they left behind.

There were 5,000 hangers, toasters, irons and TVs, coffeemakers and microwaves and kettles for tea. There were 12 pairs of crutches, mounds of pounds of clothing and 2,500 pairs of shoes; George Foreman grills, scales, blenders and refrigerators, too.

There were boxes of books, Bibles, even the Quran; jewelry and Christmas lights and 400 lamps. There were canned goods, mops and Be Mine teddy bears; the Game of Life, Kleenex, printers and desk chairs. There were Ben Gay, Nyquil, cereal and spices; bedding, pillows and machines for ices.

For years, on the streets of West Philadelphia, neighbors have dubbed this time of year "Penn Christmas," when the enterprising pick through the remnants and claim the goods.

For the first time, however, Penn officials this year launched a coordinated, all-out effort to collect and sort the items. Starting tomorrow, they will begin distributing them to two dozen organizations for the needy, including homeless shelters, food banks and literacy centers. School officials were concerned that despite the past individual scavenging and ad hoc efforts by students and neighbors to save useful items, too much was being lost to the landfill.

All in all, the stuff students left behind this year nearly fills the university's Class of 1923 Ice Rink on Walnut Street.

"It's a more organized Penn Christmas," said Penn spokeswoman Barbara Lea-Kruger.

"We like to think we fill the sack a little more," kidded Glenn Stieffenhofer, associate director of housing at the Ivy League school.

With universities ever more environmentally conscious, other schools are involved in similar efforts. Temple University also began this year to collect goods and plans to distribute them to churches and community organizations.

Lafayette College in Easton and the University of Delaware in Newark have been at it longer.

Delaware boasts that it diverted 64 tons of material from landfills last year to the hands of those in need.

Lafayette sent 300 pounds of towels and cleaning products to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Another 2,760 pounds of clothing, 2,076 pounds of food, 175 pounds of books, and 90 pounds of coats went to other organizations.

"I was just blown away by the amount of unopened food we were collecting and clothing that was brand new or gently worn," said Laura Bochner, 20, a geology major from Bethlehem who helped with the Lafayette project.

It's not that many students are wasteful, officials say. At Penn, about 1,000 full-time, on-campus students come from foreign countries, and others are from outlying states, such as California.

"It's just not practical to take your toaster or coffeemaker back to China," explains Stieffenhofer.

The college publicized its reclamation program, called PennMOVES, in the student newspaper, on flyers hung on college-house walls and doorknobs, and through internal publications to staff. Students living off campus also were invited to participate.

"The landlords in West Philadelphia were really helpful to us," Lea-Kruger said.

"They know every year what gets left behind," Stieffenhofer added. "They didn't want stuff on sidewalks or left behind in apartments."

Collection stations were set up inside and outside college houses.

Sorting through the items was challenging for Penn staffers. Last week, two cans of sloppy-joe sauce and a box of elbow macaroni looked lost in the book section. And next year, staff will ask students to tie pairs of shoes together. That should eliminate the pile of single shoes that organizers are faced with mating.

Not all the donated items were usable. Someone dropped off a wrapped brick. Someone else left three sacks of empty beer bottles. A Robin Hood suit, a witch's hat, a purple wig, and a pair of angel's wings also may have limited appeal.

Some items may have been brought in by staff members, rather than students, including a vinyl record collection with everything from Bach suites to Rod Stewart, Penn officials said. Children's toys also were offered.

One recent afternoon at the ice rink, Hang Chau, 24, strolled between the piles, sorted into 15 categories, including a section for floor lamps that looked like a convention of extraterrestrials. A 2006 Penn graduate, Chau works for AchieveAbility, an organization that helps formerly homeless families become self-sufficient. The organization has been selected to receive some of the items.

"We started making our wish list - anything that would fill a home to make it livable," she said.

Neighbors who retrieved items during past move-outs thought the new system was a good idea, though they still found plenty to pick over for themselves.

Andy Dyson, executive director of Neighborhood Bike Works, said he got two futon frames. The business at 3916 Locust Walk will recycle the metal to make bike racks.

Neighbor Kevin Scott said his basement was "packed" with clothing, linen, furniture and dishes that he picked up on curbsides.

"PennMOVES is an excellent start, but they're only capturing a small percentage of the perfectly good stuff students were putting out at the end of the year," said Scott, 42, a political activist who lives in West Philadelphia. "It's a drop in the bucket."

He says his annual yard sale of Penn loot is on for Labor Day weekend. Last year, he made $2,000 during the 24-hour-a-day sale that he says brings out bargain hunters well after the bars close.

"We're mobbed all night long," he said.

Christmas in September, for Scott.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com