Building Community: The Storehouse

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS | THE STOREHOUSE

Empowering Disadvantaged Communities to Build the Lives They Deserve

Jessica Johns, executive director of the Storehouse, has long had a heart for helping others, which is showcased not only by her steadfast development of this Grand Rapids organization but also by her impact on the lives around her, wherever she goes.

Fifteen years ago while teaching at a grade school in Indianapolis, she had an especially gifted student whose parents were going through a particularly difficult and violent divorce. To protect her family, the student’s mother would often vacate the house and seek refuge at a nearby motel, which would make this young student’s commute to school challenging as he navigated the public bus system alone. Determined to help, Johns contacted a widely broadcast radio station whose audience might feel compelled to help. Within several weeks, a local dealership exchanged their old car for a new minivan for this mother and her five children. Thanks to the extensive response from listeners, they were also provided new and permanent lodging.

Today, Johns continues her efforts to identify resources that can deliver people from disadvantaged positions.

The Storehouse began as a small, informal operation housed in a portion of the church building that Johns attended. A few times a week, volunteers served meals and distributed personal hygiene products donated to them by larger agencies. In April 2016, the church received an email about partnering with World Vision, an international Christian organization that works to provide humanitarian aid to those in need, to expand its service operations into something larger – and thus the Storehouse was conceived.

Various nonprofit organizations and churches can now pay a small fee and receive access to household goods, personal hygiene products, and teaching supplies for free. The Storehouse distributes the goods, and World Vision replenishes the supplies as needed. The items in highest demand are hygiene and cleaning products and supplies for teachers who are responsible for stocking classroom necessities such as pens, pencils, and notebooks. The Storehouse also provides small businesses with office/workspace for start-ups whose mission aligns with their own.

The Storehouse differentiates its work from that of other nonprofits in that it provides “not a handout, but a way out or hand up.”

“My passion is to acknowledge and find the determined individual who has grit and a strong work ethic. We want to prioritize that over an educational degree and, eventually, bring our program full circle by connecting hard-working individuals with small businesses that can employ them and reinvest in our organization.”

Currently, the Storehouse has around $400,000 worth of merchandise in its warehouse, with items such as tents, coolers, and coffee pots. The organization’s robust partnership with World Vision continues to thrive, creating an altogether new challenge: how best to use and disperse these goods to maximize the benefit of the product while also conserving warehouse space. For context, the agency used to receive one shipment per month but recently has started to receive three each week.

“My background is teaching,” Johns pointed out. “Thankfully my cofounder has a background in business and finance. We started with nothing – no desks, no computers, no computer paper. Everything we’ve acquired has been through donations and by wielding those donations wisely.”

In five years, Johns would like to expand the number of individuals the Storehouse is able to help.

“Grand Rapids is the most philanthropic community I’ve ever known. People are energized about breaking the reliance on governmental services and instead empowering individuals to build the lives they deserve and desire.”

Johns and her cofounder have found a way to operate an incredibly lean organization. Neither accepts monetary compensation. Instead, the money goes toward hiring three part-time employees (the equivalent of one full-time salary) to keep the Storehouse’s mission thriving.

The Storehouse 441 Plainfield Avenue NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 / (616) 855-1700 l StorehouseMI.org