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ToolBank USA: Transforming Humanitarian Response
ToolBank USA

I was working at a homeless shelter in 2000 when I went to the Atlanta Community ToolBank to pick up tools for a volunteer project. Once described as “Home Depot on steroids”, I was awestruck by the thousands of shovels and rakes, hundreds of cordless drills and ladders, dozens of generators and miter saws, and nearly 170 other tool types ready for borrowing by charitable organizations.

In Atlanta, idle volunteers suffering a shortage of tools had become a thing of the past. Now, they could plan for larger, more frequent, more impactful, and less costly days of service. The Atlanta ToolBank has equipped more than 45,000 volunteers with tools and other project equipment, dramatically increasing the impact and value of their service.

Thinking Bigger

The profound impact of the Atlanta ToolBank, coupled with the highly mobile nature of Atlanta’s residents, gave rise to dialogues about exporting the ToolBank model to other cities. Community advocates who had come to rely on the tool abundance of the Atlanta ToolBank were not about to tolerate tool scarcity in their new city! Inquiries resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita underscored the importance of tools in disaster recovery, adding real urgency to the replication idea.

With generous help from The UPS Foundation, The Home Depot Foundation, and Stanley Black & Decker, we launched ToolBank USA in 2008 to export the ToolBank concept to new cities. A team of UPSers quarterbacked the design of our tool tracking platform and championed local ToolBank replication efforts. Now there are ToolBanks in Charlotte, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, and Portland, Oregon, with efforts in Phoenix and Richmond, Virginia close behind. With UPS Vice President of Information Services Nick Costides at the helm of the ToolBank USA Board of Directors, we look to our forward-thinking partners every day to explore new ways to share this transformative community resource.

From Volunteer Equipment to Humanitarian Response

Our success in ToolBank replication has emboldened us to return to the concept of lending tools in the disaster arena. We’ve seen how the ToolBank can elevate an entire city; why couldn’t a mobile ToolBank do the same for nonprofits responding to a disaster?

An assessment by Booz Allen Hamilton in early 2012, underwritten by UPS, indicated very strong interest among disaster experts in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The projected impact should sound familiar: increased volunteer engagement, increased volunteer labor value, and less costly deployments – not to mention a shortened recovery timeframe.

The Launch of ToolBank Disaster Services

We’re now shopping for our very own car hauling trailer where we’ll install racking and an office, and then fill every remaining cubic inch with tools. The UPS Foundation has committed $100,000 to the project as well as transport service for ToolBank USA’s mobile response unit. Stanley Black & Decker is generously providing the mobile ToolBank’s initial inventory and replenishment. Combined, these gifts provide over a third of the capital needed to launch, and the search for additional investors continues.

ToolBank Disaster Services is set to transform how Americans respond to disasters, in much the same way ‘fixed’ ToolBanks are changing volunteerism. These two initiatives advance in parallel, each amplifying the impact of the other during – and between – times of crisis. We are eternally grateful for partners like UPS, whose associates are always rolling up their sleeves to engage in the work required to achieve real innovation.

Learn more about what we’re doing on our website, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

Category: Caring for Communities, Community
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