By Noah Smock, Executive Director, Baltimore Community ToolBank
Tell us about your nonprofit (or cause) in your own words:
The Baltimore Community ToolBank empowers hundreds of community-based partners in their work by providing a large inventory of clean, sharp and ready tools. 70% of our partners are based in Baltimore City. The other 30% are regional–from D.C. to Delaware and everywhere in between.
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Tell us about a project/campaign/service you are currently working on?
Beyond just housing a wealth of tools, we take great pride in being stewards of our industrial space in the Carroll-Camden/ Pigtown neighborhood. A new project for us this year is to construct a Stormwater Factory–basically a cistern system that will allow us to capture thousands of gallons of rainwater. We’ll use this rainwater to clean our tools as well as give to Parks & People watering trucks so they can use it in turn to water trees in the southwest corner of the city. I am very excited to announce that we will soon be cleaning all of our tools with last week’s rainwater.
Tell us about the people in your organization and the community you serve?
We are a small organization with a large reach. Currently there are three staff members: myself (Executive Director), our Volunteer Coordinator (an Americorps member through Volunteer Maryland) and our part-time program associate. Few as we are, we empower more than 395 partners and their volunteers across a diversity of impact areas in the region. We have cultivated hundreds of unique volunteers and engaged many seasonal interns to help us meet these growing needs.
As a sharing resource, we are a defacto clearinghouse for community work in Baltimore and surrounding areas. On any given day, we’re talking to 5-10 organizations about their projects. This is a unique lens with which to view our shared community. Our partners are working in essential services and our equipment and tools are helping them save valuable overhead and time.
[Tweet “We are as strong as the partners that put our tools to work. @ #ToolBank”]
In any given week, our tables and chairs are loaned out to a youth robotics league to empower a competition, our power drills are in the hands of volunteers building a playground at a Baltimore City school, our shovels and tillers are combating food insecurity at an urban farm that used to be a vacant lot, etc.
We live in a time when technological advances have made new things possible on the community work front. Many new organizations do not need offices: they have smart phone and can direct from the field. The ability to get in touch with large pools of volunteers is as easy as the phone in your hand.
Combine this ability to stay connected while working in direct service with the resource of the ToolBank, and you see that many organizations save time and money on real estate because they have nothing to store in an office and no need to lease one.
This empowers brand new ideas of service and allows funding for organizations to go toward their mission rather than for overhead.
That said, the ToolBank has a large warehouse (and a large lease) specifically because we absorb it for partners. Traditional (read as: old) thinking about overhead needs to be updated. Many grantors will not pay for overhead–as if paying a lease and salary for a small staff has nothing to do with the quality of the service! I have to mention this alongside that fact that it is possible to do more with less by partnering with the ToolBank.
While I am proud of the fact that 89 cents out of every dollar that goes for the rent of our space is program-based and not overhead, the term shouldn’t be a bad word for funding and business partners.
Any grantor has the opportunity to explore things on a case-by-case basis and so has the opportunity to be smarter about their potential investment in organizations that exist in new and dynamic spaces.
Tell us specifically how your nonprofit or cause has impacted the community you serve?
Our service is very simple: We have a large inventory of tools and a large and growing list of partners who need them. Simple as that is, if we were subtracted from the community equation, our partners would waste valuable time and money.
The state of most non-profit and community organizations in Baltimore is that they’re already stretched thin providing essential services. When the ToolBank does what it does and empowers partners with tools, they get to stay within their area of focus and expertise. What does it mean to a school when a teacher doesn’t have to become a painting equipment expert just because they want to improve their classroom? It means they get to dedicate their time to what they do best: teaching. They get to save money by not buying new paint rollers and trays every year.
Consider the opposite scenario: What if a community resident wants to convert a vacant lot on their block into green space? What obstacles do they face? Even if they have the know-how and volunteer power to build and maintain the space, they’d likely stop thinking about taking on the project if they had to buy or beg for tools. When organizations of any size lack access to basic tools, they are limited in regard to what they can do on their block and in their neighborhood.
The ToolBank responds to evolving needs in our shared community as identified by our partners. We listen, mobilize and respond to them directly. In the midst of the unrest in late April, those needs became very immediate. Partners busily organized clean-ups and civic events mere hours after the peak of the unrest (though we didn’t know if we were at the start or the end of it at that time). Our tools flew out the door to help clean and clear rubble, to hold meetings and cookouts to celebrate the strength of our shared community and even to help paint the mural on the corner where Freddie Gray was arrested.
Without taking a political stance, we understand that residents and community leaders best define what they need to repair and celebrate their neighborhood. The ToolBank is a valuable partner in doing this.
Tell us anything else you’re proud of?
We are proudly located in the the Pigtown/ Carroll-Camden neighborhood. Our warehouse itself tells a piece of the history of the area, having been a hub of industrial activity, then abandoned, then repurposed, then abandoned again. We are stewards of our space and have partnered to build two sizable rain gardens that repurpose hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater runoff every year. This has immediate environmental benefits in our neighborhood, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the greater Chesapeake Bay. The ToolBank Rain Gardens are landmarks in our warehouse district and examples for our industrial neighbors, who we work with and welcome into our space.
Learn More About Baltimore Community ToolBank!