Furniture bank collects office ‘must-haves’ for nonprofit groups

March 14, 2012

Katie Slye-Griffin and her assistant used to walk around the office of their nonprofit organization with hammers and nails, piecing together shoddy particleboard furniture.

The budget for the Montgomery County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness does not allow extra money for Slye-Griffin, the executive director, to purchase office furniture for her staff of 20.

And that’s where the Kane Furniture Bank swings into action.

Once a month, the Kane Furniture Bank allows nonprofit groups to tag and take — at no cost — donated office furniture.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get in advance, but chances are you’re going to find something that’s of use to the organization,” Slye-Griffin said. “It’s a huge cost savings.”

Office Movers, which handles office relocations and downsizing, founded the furniture bank in September as an environmental and charitable initiative, said Joy Newton Grubb, the company’s general manager and vice president of commercial sales.

When Office Movers works with a client, the company offers the option to donate furniture not headed in the direction of the new office space to the bank instead of taking items to a landfill. Clients include corporations, schools, hospitals, universities, law firms and associations. Clients are looking to dispose of furniture every day, Newton Grubb said.

Office Movers fills a 10,000-square-foot warehouse with gently used furniture. The space usually clears the second Saturday of every month when the furniture bank opens for four hours for nonprofit organizations to select items, Newton Grubb said.

“We wanted a way to give back to the community, and we were already developing a green initiative program,” Newton Grubb said. “One of the things that we thought would be good to do is help marry corporations with nonprofits.”

Many companies are downsizing, Newton Grubb said, and do not want to see one- to two-year-old furniture end up at the dump. Since the furniture bank began, more than 42 truckloads of furniture have been donated. The bank has about 400 nonprofit clients in its database; each gets an e-mail about the event every month.

Laura Duvelius, director of development for Adoptions Together, said her organization was among the first to attend a furniture bank event. Adoptions Together, with offices in Silver Spring, Baltimore, Herndon and the District, supports children and families formed through adoption, guardianship, foster care and kinship care.

Before picking up tables, conference chairs and a sofa from the furniture bank, Adoption Together’s office furniture left something to be desired.

“It was donated and terrible, and we had it about 12 years,” Duvelius said.

The Adoption Together staff has been to the bank multiple times, Duvelius said, saving the organization upward of $5,000. This keeps overhead low, allowing the organization to spend a majority of donations on helping children and families.

“This is a wonderful gift to the community,” Duvelius said of the furniture bank. “And inventive, because it keeps our bottom line healthy, and it serves our clients.”

Slye-Griffin attended the event for the first time last month, walking away with desks, chairs, a file cabinet piece and training tables.

“We walked in and were amazed because this was real office furniture,” Slye-Griffin said. “Solid desks that aren’t going to fall down if you pile too many papers on them.”

Staff members at nonprofit groups who show up at the warehouse label items they want to take, which they can pack into their own cars or use a delivery system the bank provides. Delivery in Montgomery County costs $300; delivery outside costs $500.

For organizations such as Slye-Griffin’s — which doesn’t have a spare dime to spend on furniture — the bank is a generous and beneficial resource.

“Whoever the donors are . . . we’re hugely appreciative,” Slye-Griffin said. “It’s huge for us.”

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