About our Project
Introduction: The original Wish Project was a written 4 pronged plan for how to provide all manner of goods (other than food) to all the needy all year long. Need was organized by urgency from crisis same day needs to seasonal needs like blankets. Those needs would be met by: wishes, seasonal projects, the Emergency Support Program and a for profit venture to fund the other three. A large for profit venture has not yet been created though several ideas are on the drawing board and under consideration of the board of directors.
The Lowell/Lawrence area communities have some of the highest poverty rates in the State, along with a large and varied immigrant population. According to the National Low Income Coalition, Massachusetts is the second least affordable of the States for renters; according to the National Homeless Association, the average renter must earn $22.40/hr. to afford a two bedroom apartment in Massachusetts. Consequently, at minimum-wage rates of $8.00/hr, a family would need to work at least 3 jobs just to afford its rent.
Supporting a family is a daunting task under these conditions, and even more so while recovering from a life-altering event such as fire, flight from domestic violence or caring for an ailing child.
In any given week, there are 100-200 people, including infants and children, sleeping on the floor in largely unfurnished apartments. The Wish Project is critical, as it is the only free furniture-and-goods bank serving this large disadvantaged area. Without The Wish Project, a client’s only options are renting furniture or saving to buy. Since household furnishings for a family of 4 would cost, on average, $1,000 at a thrift store and rental costs are a monthly drain, too often clients either do without or find they are unable to manage the expense and therefore vulnerable to becoming homeless again.
Where do we help? We serve the Merrimack Valley of MA including Greater Lowell and Greater Lawrence. We have a 13,000 sq ft warehouse off Plain St. in Lowell with easy access to the highway 495.
What we do: Our mission is to provide our local people in need with basic furniture, home and baby goods while we help the planet by recycling used goods. Only when people have their basic needs met can they move forward and out of the social services system. By providing basic goods to people in crisis, we help end needless suffering in the short term while helping to end homelessness in the long term. People living in poverty are always in crisis-mode.
Only once the basic needs are met they can begin to work towards improving their lives and gaining independence from government support. We are helping the disadvantaged to get past the enormous hurdle of re-establishing home life once they have secured housing, and helping donors recycle their no-longer-needed furnishings, clothing and home goods back into use by people who desperately need them.
We work directly with shelters and housing programs to effectuate a smooth transition for those moving from shelter or emergency situations into apartments. This provides a unique and cost-effective approach to a problem whose urgency is repeated daily, in the individual circumstances of each client.
In 2000 the founder Donna Hunnewell quit work as a corporate trainer for FLIR Systems to get married and have her 2 children. In her free time throughout the two pregnancies she volunteered with many social services agencies and was inspired by how often they went out of their way to buy diapers for a baby in need.
Of course furniture for families moving out of shelter was the biggest need in the city and it had the largest impact because with support most of these families were out of the system for good. In the early years used Hotmail and her cell phone to get friends to donate goods for her to deliver in her minivan. But a larger solution was needed. After a short stint at a local food bank, she had an inspiration. Food Banks solved the regional need for food 1970 s but there seemed to be no solution to a one agency making it their mission to supply furniture, home, baby goods and clothing to the region.
Unlike food, so many people were looking to donate these things. It only made sense to use a similar model of a Goods Bank for goods. Donna assembled a board of directors to obtain a 501c3 and rental space in 2005. Furniture wishes remained the most difficult to fill and they required a large space to stage. In 2006 The Wish Project moved into part of a very large warehouse and in 2007 finally raised the money to move into the final and present 13,000 sq ft warehouse space.
Who: Constituency Served and How We Help Them
Our service area spans the Merrimack Valley with most of our clients coming from Greater Lowell and Most of the clients helped have suffered a one-time life-altering event such as fire, flood, spousal assault, illness in the family or other financial reversal. More than 85% of the clients we serve are women and children; nearly one-third of them were displaced due to domestic violence. We help many clients from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and beyond. We help the elderly, mentally and physically ill, thousands of babies, homeless families and singles. All we require is that they are working with an agency to get all the help they need and not just seeking goods. We have a wonderful online referral system that was built by as volunteer 2 years ago. It dramatically reduces the paperwork and wait time between referral and assistance. Once a final wish is approved electronically, the social worker is sent an email with the packet to print out and either bring to our warehouse or send to the client so they can come and pick up the approved goods.
Who We Are: Staff and Governance
Wish brought on paid staff in 2007 and now has 8 part time and 1 full time employees. Payroll is about50% of our budget. About 1,200 voluntters each year work more than 10,000 volunteer hours. Volunteers are a precious resource and the secret to our success. We have an active and thriving board of 12 members including a new fundraising chairman, an HR chair, legal counsel and 2 CPAs. We also have a paid CPA on staff as our book keeper. Each year we are audited by an independent outside accounting firm. The board meets 12 times a year with a strategic planning meeting in Jan.
How We Accomplish our Goals: Funding
Since the beginning, the organization has moved from 70% grant funded to 80% self reliant. In 2011 The Wish Project developed a Zero Waste initiative. Recycling opened new revenue streams through recycled electronics, clothing and other goods that our clients do not need. The three largest sources of revenue are private donations, agency fees and active fundraising.
Plans for the future:
In the short term the organization is seeking more space. Longer term the goal is to own their own building. The ultimate goal is to have a Goods Bank in every major city but for now ending homelessness one family at a time here in MA keeps the project busy.