OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACommunity Warehouse began as an idea in 2001, when its founders asked themselves, “How can we help Milwaukee?”
The people who were pondering that question were five businessmen who wanted to start a non-profit organization different from other non-profits. Their mission would be to offer hope, change and grace to the under-served residents of Milwaukee. But, still, the question remained, exactly what form would that help take?
One of the original group of five was a builder and on the board of directors for the Metropolitan Builders Association. He recalled seeing unused building materials in the city and surrounding areas that apparently ended up in landfills. With the intention of preventing such perfectly good materials from going to waste, the idea was born to offer them to the community for pennies on the dollar and give residents the opportunity to fix up their homes.
Thus, the concept of a non-profit store that offered affordable home and building improvement materials to improve the quality of life in Milwaukee, as a faith-based, non-profit organization, became Community Warehouse.
The store/warehouse opened in 2005 in the former Blackhawk Tannery building on S. 9th Street, about two blocks north of National Avenue.
Prospective customers of Community Warehouse must live in one of the eighteen Community Development Block Grant NSP areas in Milwaukee. Virtually all of Riverwest falls into one of those areas, NSP 7, from Capitol Drive and beyond on the north, the Milwaukee River on the east, past North Ave. to the south and to Holton Street on the west. Our neighbors to the west are also in other NSP areas, all the way to about 60th Street.
As residents of the NSP area, individual Riverwest and Harambee residents are eligible to become members of Community Warehouse for an annual fee of $25. Businesses and non-profit organizations that own properties in the NSP area also are eligible for memberships, at higher rates. Check out the Community Warehouse website at thecommunitywarehouse.org for details on memberships.
“The companies that donate to Community Warehouse do not receive any compensation for their donations; we do not pay for the product,” according to Steve Lied, Community Warehouse Operations Manager.
“That said,” he adds, “we do have costs related to shipping, etc. And we also work with middleman organizations, who provide product to us for a handling fee,” Lied says. Roughly 80 to 90% of the material at Community Warehouse is new.
The inventory changes over time, of course, but a typical offering includes doors, windows, floor, ceiling and roof tiles, bricks and landscape stones, paint, varnish, and a variety of insulation materials and bathroom and kitchen fixtures.
The Kohler Company is one big contributor to Community Warehouse, along with Sherwin Williams, Hallman Lindsey and Lowe’s.
According to Lied, a shipment of doors recently received from Lowe’s otherwise would have been shredded by the store because they didn’t sell fast enough, or perhaps the design changed and more room was needed in their storage areas.
Community Warehouse was very happy to take those “unwanted” doors from Lowe’s and turn around and sell them to Warehouse members at up to a 75% reduction in the original retail price.
Because it is a faith-based organization, Community Warehouse’s mission goes beyond providing a few gallons of paint or a new shower door to a homeowner in need.
“We endeavor to offer hope and change lives one household at a time,” according to Community Warehouse’s website.
In keeping with that broader mission, five of the Warehouse’s 15 total employees are “transitional” staff, meaning they come to the work setting “background challenged,” as Lied puts it, including having served time in prison. Other Community Warehouse staff members help the transitional workers move from unemployment to gainful work.
Milwaukee Working, which opened about two and a half years ago, is a separate division of Community Warehouse that focuses exclusively on job creation. Beautiful wooden kitchen and bathroom cabinets are on display at Community Warehouse that were built at Milwaukee Working, located at 30th and North. Check out their website at milwaukeeworking.org.
Elite Energy Distribution is another, completely separate company with which Community Warehouse partners, helping to disassemble electronics for recycling.
In its efforts to spread the word about itself, Community Warehouse has partnered with Select Milwaukee. Home buyers who work through Select Milwaukee are referred to Community Warehouse to help them save on the cost of refurbishing their homes. (See the related story about a Riverwest home buyer who used Community Warehouse products, facing page.)
Community Warehouse also shares its story at neighborhood watch meetings and community resource fairs.
If you’re a homeowner and want to make use of Community Warehouse’s varied resources, be sure to also check out their Spring 2014 DIY Competition. If you purchase at least 75% of the materials used in your home DIY project from Community Warehouse, you’re eligible to enter this competition. The deadline is May 17. Again, see the website for more information, including updates on materials offered at the store.