Volunteer Groups Get Helping Hand from New Tool Bank

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March 20, 2011; Source: Charlotte Observer | It takes more than just a willing group of volunteers to successfully pull off community improvement projects, from renovating homes for seniors to planting trees in parks. Groups overseeing that work also need tools – hammers, saws, rakes and shovels – just to name a few. To save them the cost of buying those items, nonprofits can now borrow the equipment they need from a newly opened Community Tool Bank in Charlotte, N.C.

Like its counterpart that has been operating in Atlanta for the past 20 years, the Charlotte tool bank will loan tools to local groups as well as those in other states. The tool bank is currently building its inventory of cordless drills, rakes, shovels and safety goggles, among other items, using $150,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. It ultimately hopes to stock 150 types of tools in its 6,800-square-foot warehouse.

Groups borrowing tools pay a weekly fee, equal to 3 percent of the retail value of the tools. The Atlanta ToolBank, which last year filled 672 tool orders for 2,227 projects, estimates that charities in Georgia saved about $750,000 thanks to the borrowing program.

Among the Charlotte ToolBank's first customers is the Richmond-based, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia, which previously has rented tools from Atlanta. It already has put in an order for tools for a variety of building projects planned for next week to help Virginia families in need.

Closer to home, Leslie Rink, the head of volunteer projects for the Charlotte United Way is breathing a sigh of relief. Rink said that in the past one of her challenges was finding volunteers who also could bring their own tools for various jobs. The Charlotte Tool Bank will be especially handy for a Wells Fargo sponsored Day of Caring on June 4, which the United Way is helping to coordinate. With thousands of volunteers likely to turn out, Rink predicts there could be "20 to 40 volunteer sites going, and when you have that many people, you can't go out and buy the tools." Instead, Rink says, she's banking on the new Charlotte ToolBank.—Bruce Trachtenberg