The Benevolent Big Box
A charter school in North Lawndale, Chicago, serves 300 underprivileged students from fifth to eighth grade, many of whom are unable to provide their own school supplies. So the school turns to a unique ministry. The Storehouse, run by World Vision, is a big-box retailer for those who can't afford big-box prices.
"One of the first gifts we received [from the Storehouse] was 40 backpacks with school supplies, pencils, pens, and loose-leaf paper," says Jim O'Connor, principal of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Ascend Charter School. "Backpacks went to kids who had been doing a good job with their behavior. Since then, we've received everything from yarn to whiteboards."
The charter school also runs a store where students may buy Storehouse-donated products with "KIPP dollars," which are earned for good behavior and academic effort. "The Storehouse," says O'Connor, "has provided our students and teachers with classroom supplies that are essential for student learning."
In the early '90s, Perry Bigelow, a major Chicago-area homebuilder, and a handful of other businessmen wanted to provide building supplies to local churches and ministries. "They realized that pastors were responsible for the social development in the city," says Michael Mantel, senior director of World Vision Chicago. "If you help a church rehabilitate its facility, then you can help the church rehabilitate its community." Inspired by a ministry that builds homes for pastors, the group of homebuilders determined to "build something that will keep building."
In 1995, the Storehouse opened as a home-improvement outlet for churches, ministries, and needy individuals. But putting up walls turned out to be easier than starting a ministry. "We made two mistakes," says Mantel. "One, we assumed we could get building materialsbut World Vision had no contacts in that arena. Two, we assumed that people would want the materials. But the community leaders were so used to getting ripped off, they thought the stuff was 'hot.'"
Their first location looked nothing like a big-box store, either. It was a dark warehouse in which they sold wallpaper, sinks, and cabinet doorsthat was it. There was no room for more. But things began to change when a Canadian stockbroker, Craig McKay, began appealing to major home-supply companies to donate materials. Meanwhile, volunteer Kim Lee Franklin promoted the project with local churches. Suddenly, Storehouse had donors like Kohler and Armstrong providing materials and local churches providing customers.
Today, the Chicago Storehouse has the friendly cashiers, high ceiling, and lengthy aisles of any Home Depot or Lowe's. Unlike the average home-improvement store, though, Storehouse lines its aisles with colorful World Vision posters, reminding visitors of needy children around the world.
The Storehouse connects companies, business leaders, and suburban churches to inner-city charities and churches. World Vision provides the logistics to stock each storehouse with volunteers, staff, and building materials. Customers come to the Storehouse through member churches and charities. Through member fees or direct purchase, they buy sinks, lumber, paint, and other building materials at a 15 to 20 percent discount.
From Los Angeles, California, to Appalachia, West Virginia, people near Storehouse's 11 current locations across the United States now have access to first-rate home-building products and school resources. In 2006 alone, Storehouse served more than 1.6 million people.