GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jessica Johns can remember the first time the doors swung open on a delivery truck for a new nonprofit nearly seven years ago. The truck was filled with hygiene and school-related products, along with pallets pillows and blankets. She and her team had been working with Team World Vision to get this shipment to Grand Rapids.
“My first thought was, ‘oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?’ And the second thought was, ‘we have an opportunity to do two distinct things,'” Johns recalls.
It was the beginning of The StoreHouse, a nonprofit in Grand Rapids that works as a business-to-business distributor of brand-new, quality products for other nonprofits throughout the community.
“Our goal is actually to be a facilitator to what nonprofits are already doing. So they’re actually doing the tough work of actually helping individuals, giving them skills and providing them with work and houses and things like that. We’re just here to facilitate and exponentially expand their work,” Johns said. “So if they can source their goods here more inexpensively, then hopefully they can reallocate those dollars to be more intentional on purposeful towards their mission.”
The other distinct purpose is their Teacher Store. Its storefront setting next to its warehouse that allows teachers from low-income school districts to come in and shop for classroom items, completely free.
“I remember my first classroom, I took two days before the start of school and I literally had nothing but desks,” Johns, a former teacher, said. “I had nothing. And I remember thinking, boy, if I would’ve had access to this and kind of ran that through my mind and realized not everybody needs the same thing. So similar to nonprofits, we realized even though we’re stocking these with kind of basic supplies, every school is reaching out to us with totally different needs.”
After her teaching career, Johns started volunteering at a church pantry. That’s where she says she recognized the first need — personal hygiene products. After collaborating with Nora Ruder, her co-founder, the two saw an opportunity to not only meet the critical needs of items like shampoo, soap or toothpaste but also fill gaps with every other item imaginable; bathroom vanities, toilets and even a kitchen sink.
“We kind of joke all the time and say we have everything and the kitchen sink, because in one of the aisles, you’ll see that we actually have kitchen sinks,” Johns said as she walked through the warehouse. “We are offered plumbing, roofing, I mean we get offered everything. We turn it down until we can move it.”
The size of The StoreHouse warehouse is impressive. Like a massive department store that operates much more like a convenient, local grocery store for nonprofits in need. Right now they’re serving about 200 nonprofits each year with an average of a 25 to one mark down on goods. Each year, they connect millions of dollars of brand-new, donated household and school products to help give a “hand up.”
“We’re not really trying to compete for resources. We’re not trying to take away from what a donor would do for an entity that they already work with. It’s really saying, if you’re looking for that, use this, because The StoreHouse is exponentially impacting the community and beyond,” Johns said. “We source all of our goods, almost all of them right now, nationally. I really believe fully, that we live in such a philanthropic community that we’re fully positioned to be in a community where the community can sustain itself.”
That is the dream now. As those shipments from donors across the country become more regular and those truck doors swing open to fill the shelves of the StoreHouse, Johns has moved beyond that originally overwhelming feeling to a position of how can we make this more local. A vision where the shelves are not just helping the community but filled by the community.
“We have (the) opportunity to grow. We have (the) opportunity to serve more nonprofits and more schools. That’s our passion,” Johns said. “We want other businesses to come alongside of us, not only to support us with their product, overstock and overrun, out of season inventory but also to come along with their time, talent and treasure.”