Recently, a church in Atkins paid about $600 for nearly $6,000 worth of flooring, doors and other construction and home supplies to fix up a residence owned by the church. Camp Mitchell, Heifer Ranch and Family Home of Little Rock were able to redo their bedrooms with new Tempur-Pedic mattresses, which retail for around $1,200, for only $95 per bed. That bargain shopping happened in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse 10 miles west of Little Rock where, as part of its outreach ministry, Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center has launched a marketplace of goods available at deep discounts to nonprofits and churches. The new program, Sharing the Goods, is a partnership with Good360, an Alexandria, Va., charitable organization that has distributed $9 billion in goods to more than 6 million people around the world since it was founded in 1983.
Good360's model is one its leaders have described as "mutualism," as opposed to altruism. In exchange for significant tax write-offs, corporations such as The Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond make large-scale donations to Good360 of products that, perhaps because they were overstocked or returned, might otherwise end up in landfills. Good360 then makes the items available to nonprofits, which can purchase them at deep discounts to help further their missions.
Ferncliff is a Community Redistribution Partner of Good360 — one of only 30 in the U.S. and the only one in Arkansas — which means that it's set up to receive truckload-sized shipments from Good360 corporate donors and make those goods available to nonprofits for purchase. Ferncliff prices its inventory at discounts of 75 percent or more.
"We want it to be a bargain for the nonprofit or church, and we also want to charge enough that we're not taking money from the camp [to operate Sharing the Goods]," said David Gill, director of outreach and mission engagement at Ferncliff.
The inventory is available to browse at sharingthegoods.org. Any nonprofit, in Arkansas or elsewhere, can fill out an application form on the website to become a member of Sharing the Goods and purchase items online, which must be picked up from the warehouse within three days.
Ferncliff is the exclusive recipient of product donations of a number of Central Arkansas outlets of Good360 partners, including The Home Depot, Tuesday Morning and Pottery Barn. Whatever the stores want to get rid of, Ferncliff takes, per its Good360 agreement.
"If they call, we pick it up," Gill said. "It could be 26 bathtubs. We take it and smile. The next load might be Martha Stewart cubbies. Or we got 400 doormats one time."
Gill retired as executive director of Ferncliff in January. He spent 20 years heading the 1,200-acre camp, which the Presbyterian Church founded in 1936. In addition to holding summer camp, the facility hosts corporate retreats and this year opened a nature preschool. In 2005, through a grant from Presbyterian Women, Ferncliff built its warehouse to serve as a Disaster Assistance Center in partnership with Church World Service and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. It's one of only two warehouses in the country that receive and distribute Church World Service Gift of the Heart kits, which include such items as school and hygiene supplies.
Sharing the Goods takes up about 3,000 square feet of the warehouse, with the balance occupied by the Gift of the Heart kits and a woodshop, where a group of retired handymen called the Over the Hill Gang build things for Ferncliff and other nonprofits (an application form is at ferncliff.org/outreach/programs/over-the-hill-gang).
Managing Sharing the Goods allowed Gill to "rewire instead of retire," he said. He appreciates the entrepreneurial aspect of the program and is working to figure out the logistics of managing inventory. Forty nonprofits have joined the program since it launched in late summer. The more that join, the better Ferncliff will have a sense of what sort of goods it should be looking for from the truckloads it can purchase through Good360, he said. David Gill's son Joel, who took over as executive director of the camp earlier this year, described the ideal arrangement of Sharing the Goods as a sort of co-op, where Ferncliff is a buyer for nonprofits. "That's a way for us to extend our mission of creating positive change in the world and for them to extend their mission as well," Joel Gill said.
Ferncliff has budgeted about $25,000 for the program in its startup year and so far it's about breaking even, David Gill said. "We're just trying to figure this out and not lose our shirt," he said. But that doesn't mean they don't see growth potential. They've already had plans drawn up to expand the warehouse, and they believe the way the program benefits not just Ferncliff but potentially all Arkansas nonprofits could appeal to grantmaking foundations.
This reporting is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans. Find out more at arknews.org.