Blog : For the People by the People: Community Toolbox Aids Their Community

By Craig | Jun 5, 2014 | in

People helping people. That's what Community Toolbox, a newly minted 501c3 nonprofit in Portsmouth, N.H., does best. As a nonprofit business, Community Toolbox operates on three platforms that give back to the community and the environment. From the organization's Fix-It program, to its Outlet Store, to its DeConstruction program, Community Toolbox has made itself into a force for good in the Seacoast. So why does Community Toolbox work so hard? Simple: they saw a community in need.

Cheryl Van Allen, Executive Director of Community Toolbox, of her experience with Board President Tom Boisvert. "When we were with Habitat for Humanity, we got phone calls regularly from people who would ask us to come and help them fix things in their homes," she said. "While they may have owned their own homes, they could not afford to do the repairs to keep them safe and healthy."

Based on this experience, Boisvert and Van Allen knew firsthand just how important developing a nonprofit like Community Toolbox would be to the community.

The Fix-It program, the "lifeblood" of the business Van Allen says, is a team of volunteers that helps homeowners in need with repairs to their homes. These repairs are more than just cosmetic touch-ups and focus heavily on the health and safety of the home and homeowners. The Fix-It program is open to those who desperately need the help, or are unable to do the work themselves. Largely, it’s a clientele recommended by caseworkers from social service programs like Food Stamps, Welfare, Senior Home Health Care professionals, those who receive oil or electrical assistance from Community Action Programs and people on Medicare and Medicaid.

Community Toolbox's volunteers make themselves available to those who've asked for assistance, and are asked to pay only for the materials required to complete the job. To fund the Fix-it program, Community Toolbox relies on their Outlet Store which sells recycled home goods and appliances. Some of the product sold at the Outlet comes from Community Toolbox's DeConstruction program, but Van Allen notes that their product also comes from generous local home improvement retailers.

“Most of the retail donors to the store thus far are small, generous local businesses who want to give back to the community,” said Van Allen, “but we are confident that larger box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s will join in the support because it is a natural fit with their missions and foundations.”

And while the Community Toolbox Outlet Store cares deeply for limited income customers, they're not exclusive to that clientele – the Store is for everyone. Along with a group of key volunteers, who promote the store's monthly sales through Craigslist and social media, Van Allen says she has seen many property owners come through the Outlet's doors. Especially if they're working on DIY projects.

"One property owner saw us on Craigslist. He came in to check the Store out because he owns multiple rental properties over several towns. He will now shop here because there are things here he needs to renovate apartments cost effectively, and help by donating here when he's renovating because its tax deductible," said Van Allen.

Donations to the Community Toolbox Outlet Store are a large part of the business model. Without them there would be no Outlet Store and without that, no funding for the Fix-It program. The major source for the donations is through the business’ third-tier in its design: DeConstruction.

The DeConstruction program is almost literally as simple as tearing down a wall. Whenever there's a home renovation project, a building being torn down or a room being gutted, property owners can donate still usable appliances and building supplies to Community Toolbox for the business to turn-around and sell in the Outlet Store. The DeConstruction program also keeps large amounts of unnecessary waste out of landfills. It's a huge environmental conservation effort, and one of the reasons Community Toolbox is a Business Partner with the Green Alliance, a union of local, sustainable businesses who strive to engage the community, and other businesses, to make environmentally-conscious choices.

For example, at a recent DeConstruction job, an entire kitchen was gutted. The cabinetry and working appliances were donated to Community Toolbox.

"We'll hand [the contractor or homeowner] a receipt for all those cabinets and appliances and say, 'here you go. You can deduct it'," said Van Allen.

Environmentally conscious and locally-minded DIY homeowners shop at Community Toolbox's Outlet Store because of its savings, not only on budget, but for its sustainability in preserving both the local economy and environment.

Acting as a force for good in both the community and for the environment isn't always an easy job for Community Toolbox. It took longer than Van Allen would have liked for their nonprofit status to come through - something she applauds Sen. Kelly Ayotte for helping finalize. Without that designation, it’s probable the business wouldn't attract as many donations as they receive; a disappointment for both the environment for the people in need of Community Toolbox's service.

Despite this struggle, its threefold business model makes Community Toolbox a guiding light for anyone who struggles to live in a healthy environment and those who want to maintain a healthy planet.

"It's a win, win, win," said Van Allen.

 Green Alliance Members receive 10% off at Community Toolbox's Outlet Store!