Baltimore Community ToolBank Helps Organizations Save Money by Renting Resources

Nonprofit assists other organizations so they can elevate the scale of their projects.

Published in Community Health - Community Health Stories

When organizations such as the South Baltimore Partnership need supplies for a neighborhood event, they reach out to the Baltimore Community ToolBank. Their huge inventory includes tables, chairs, coolers, grills, sound systems, lighting, trash cans and other items that nonprofit and community organizations need frequently but often lack the money to purchase or rent, or have space to store.

“Because of the Baltimore Community ToolBank, we were able to present a very sophisticated and well put-together event,” says Betty Bland-Thomas, executive director of the South Baltimore Partnership, which champions youth environmental stewardship. “I don’t have all the equipment I need, or I can’t afford it. Having access to this type of equipment helps us carry out our mission.”

The Baltimore Community ToolBank received $3,000 and $5,000 grants in 2020 from the Johns Hopkins Neighborhood Fund. The grants helped the ToolBank double their inventory of certain tools, like pallet jacks and handcarts, so they can assist nonprofits with projects such as food distribution in response to COVID-19.

The Johns Hopkins Neighborhood Fund supports nonprofit organizations that serve the communities near Johns Hopkins campuses and are associated with Johns Hopkins through employee or institutional involvement. The Neighborhood Fund uses pledge donations made through the United Way campaign to help local nonprofit organizations build stronger neighborhoods by addressing needs in areas of community revitalization, education, employment, health and public safety.

“This community service is a powerful example of an affordable, sustainable practice,” says Anne Suydam Haskins, associate director of regional programs, development and alumni relations for The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Tools are expensive and therefore often unobtainable, meaning vital home and community projects may go unfulfilled because of economics. By keeping the inventory of practical tools — everything from a shovel to a chain saw — combined with volunteer expertise, the Baltimore ToolBank puts these tools into the hands of citizens and organizations who can then take care of their services, properties and families.”

Noah Smock, executive director of Baltimore Community ToolBank, says the goal is to help organizations save money so they can put more funds into their missions. The ToolBank has been in Baltimore since 2012. There are seven other tool banks around the country.

“There’s an environmental benefit to sharing resources, rather than having organizations purchase brand new,” Smock says. “We help nonprofits and community organizations increase the scale of their projects. We’re helping make possible projects that might not have occurred without the right tools.”

The ToolBank lends tools in one-week increments. Organizations pick up the tools, use them and then return them. There is a per week charge of 3% of the retail value of the tool borrowed. Therefore, if an organization gets $1,000 worth of tools, they’re renting them for just $30 that week.

“I love fulfilling orders for partners who are working on the most entrenched issues,” Smock says. “We’re doing our part to help with issues like food insecurity, housing insecurity and building playgrounds.”

Baltimore Community ToolBank provided flatbed carts so the South Baltimore Partnership could distribute food to people in their neighborhood. Bland-Thomas says the group had been using hand-pulled grocery carts to serve a three-block radius, but with the ToolBank’s help, they were able to deliver food to a much larger group of community members.

Bland-Thomas says the ToolBank is also a great resource for fundraising guidance. Claire Barnes Runquist, Parks & People Foundation’s volunteer coordinator, agrees. She loves how connected the ToolBank is to other nonprofits and how they are a hub for so much good work.

This summer, when Parks & People Foundation programming was forced to go virtual, they teamed up with the ToolBank to host their first virtual field trip over Zoom.

“They showed our campers the pollinator gardens they have at their warehouse and talked about stormwater pollution. The kids loved it!” says Barnes Runquist.

When The 6th Branch, a veterans’ nonprofit that constructs green spaces, needed to remove 6,600 square feet of asphalt to make a green space, they used every stone-breaking device the ToolBank had.

“That project would not have been possible without the ToolBank,” says Scott Goldman, The 6th Branch’s executive director. “We wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy all that equipment.”

The 6th Branch has collaborated with the Baltimore Community ToolBank since the organization was founded.

“Our motto is ‘grab a shovel,’” Goldman says. “We work with communities and neighborhoods to transform vacant lots into community green spaces. We build parks, playgrounds and urban farms. The work we do is outdoor labor with landscaping and light construction elements. We need tools. There’s nowhere else that provides service at this level. You can rent through Home Depot or other neighborhood shops, but the ToolBank provides tools at an almost commercial level. They do it with such efficiency and determination. They’re always a great resource.”

Goldman says the Baltimore Community ToolBank is an organization he can count on.

“It’s an incredible resource, and it’s incredibly well run,” he says. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.”

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