Community Warehouse in spacious new home
By DEBORAH MOON
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When Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union began arriving in Portland in the early 1990s, Roz Babener helped Jewish Family and Child Service launch a small warehouse to provide furnishings for each immigrant’s first apartment in America.
From those roots in JFCS’s resettlement program, today’s Community Warehouse serves about 60 families a week from across the community.
Now the warehouse is moving into a potentially permanent home—a large warehouse with ample parking, easy access and a storefront for its Estate Store. According to Community Warehouse founder and president Babener, the best part is that it’s a lease with an option to buy, which could save the organization the approximately $60,000 it spends on rent each year.
Located at the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Shaver Street, the 10,000-square-foot building includes easily accessible warehouse space, a corner storefront that formerly housed Hanna Bee’s Bakery and 10,000 square feet of parking. Community Warehouse has until December 2010 to raise the $1.2 million purchase price.
Community Warehouse Executive Director Kristy Wood said the high visibility of the site is a major advantage to a non-profit agency with virtually no marketing budget.
“With good signage on MLK, we hope we will stay on people’s minds,” said Wood.
In its new location, the warehouse plans to open its Estate Store five days a week to help support the warehouse. The Estate Store, which sells treasures and antiques that aren’t necessary for families seeking basic items, will be staffed by volunteers. Currently the store is open on weekends.
“Having the Estate Store open five days a week will really help the warehouse meet our future operating costs,” said Babener.
Wood said with a more accessible location (the current warehouse on the corner of Interstate Avenue and Albina Street is difficult to enter and has limited parking), she also hopes to see an increase in donations of furniture and other household items such as kitchen utensils and linens.
“We are a regional furniture bank because there is nobody else,” said Wood, noting the warehouse has provided furniture and household items to those in need from Southwest Washington to Corvallis and the Oregon coast. “We serve about 60 families a week, but we get about 100 requests per week. We try to meet them, but we are always behind.”
She said that the warehouse is having more trouble than usual filling requests since donations of furniture have fallen in the current economy.
“People are not buying new furniture,” she said.
Wood hopes that donations will pick up at the new site with the increased visibility.
“Everybody has stuff they don’t need,” said Babener. “It could make a huge difference to some of these families.”
“Agencies can get families into housing,” she added. “But if they are sleeping on the floor, how long are they going to stay?”
While many thrift stores exist in the area, the warehouse is the only agency that provides free furniture and household necessities to families referred by 100 social service and religious organizations.
Demand also has gone up under the city of Portland’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.
“We are seeing families moving off the streets who need a full household of furniture,” said Wood.
Recognizing the importance of the warehouse to that effort, the city recently renewed a $46,000 grant to Community Warehouse.
The warehouse also received a $90,000 grant from the Portland Development Commission to renovate the new space.
Babener said the warehouse expects to move into its new home in mid to late August when renovations are complete.
Quiet fund-raising already has brought in about $300,000 toward the purchase of the building at 3961 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. A formal capital campaign will be launched soon, said Babener.
Fineke Brasser, who has been volunteering at the warehouse since its early days as part of Jewish Family and Child Service, said that buying a building will add to the organization’s self-sufficiency.
“As a volunteer it feels good to come in now,” said Brasser. “It’s viable. This (buying a building) is the last step to finish it off. It’s a good feeling.”
For more information on the warehouse, volunteering or making a donation, call Wood at 503-224-0711.