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. She ended up using her minivan and cell phone to answer calls from social workers for urgently needed goods. She would put her kids in the car, go buy the item and deliver to the agency.
Also in 2000 she was recruited to the City of Lowell Hunger Homeless Commission. Each month the leaders of the homeless shelters and food pantries met at City Hall to discuss changes in the system and how the groups could all work better together with meager resources. It was amazing to see how many problems could be solved with the sharing of information. But as Donna gave birth to her first child and he began growing out of his gear, even she could not find a way to get an old crib to a child in need. An idea was born.
In 2002 the Internet and email were catching on and she saw a way to connect busy social workers with donors. Thanks to help from the Jericho Road Project, a software programmer helped build the Wish List. This was a matching service for goods and agencies in need. For several years it worked to some extent but when the Love Bug virus wiped it out, it was time for an actual space to process goods and store items.
By 2004 Donna’s porch was overwhelmed with donations and now with two toddlers it was clear that this operation needed to grow to a larger space. Thanks to a donation from the Hunger/Homeless Commission Donna rented an outside access storage unit in Tewksbury. When the Lowell Sun did an article on this freezing space and how Donna was processing goods while her kids sat in a warm car next to her- donations poured in.
In 2005 Donna assembled a small board and filed for the 501C3. At that point The Lowell Wish Project was now working out of five 10 x 20 mini-storage units at Foundry Park in Lowell. They did have shared inside space but tables needed to be set up and broken down in the three hour period that coincided with Donna’s children’s preschool. With no water, light or bathrooms, that year was challenging.
In 2006 thanks to a faithful board of directors and great support from the Lowell Sun, Lowell Wish signed a lease in the current space- well 3,000 sq ft of the total 13,000. It would be another year until in 2007 Lowell Wish could raise the funds to secure the entire space thanks to the Parker Foundation, The Greater Lowell Community Foundation and the Community Development Block Grant managed from HUD. Lowell Wish Project was listed in the Catalog for Philanthropy in 2006. This statewide group annually recognizes some 100 non-profits for their efficiency and mission accomplishments making them deserving of public philanthropic support
In 2007 Lowell Wish now had 13,000 sq ft of space and spent the year scaling up. Obtaining pallet racking, a forklift and writing tons of grants for plastic bins etc. Donna began taking a salary in December of 2006. SOMWBA Certified as a female owned business in the State of MA in 2007.
Recognized by the State of MA as proud recipients of State of MA Earmark 2007 for $75,000 and $27,500 in 2008 to support our free furniture program as an intrinsic support for low income housing for the region. This large income allows the Project to hire much needed paid staff. In mid 2007 the first assistant ED was hired, a volunteer manager, a warehouse manager and a labor person was hired. This allowed a large increase in the number of clients assisted now up to 25,000 per year.
In 2008 Lowell Wish Project became a Better Business Bureau Approved Charity. In 2009 Lowell Wish joined the many partners of Anton’s Cleaners Statewide Coats for Kids program. We processed more than 9,000 coats in 2008 and provided 2,500+ to clients of our more than 100 social service agencies. At the end of the season we collect coats from the region including Boston. These are sized and bagged for distribution next winter in September to fill the gap before the program donations are available next year.
In 2010 Lowell Wish Project began the name change to The Wish Project to reflect the expanding geographic region served which now included all of the Merrimack Valley.
In 2011 the warehouse was completely broken down and rebuilt for more efficiency. In one week, 100 work hours, the entire place was broken down and rebuilt to reopen the Tuesday for business.
In 2012 The Wish Project changed the mission to be 51% helping the poor but 49% about helping the planet. This was the year that the colors changed from red to green to reflect the increased effort to be Zero waste. In this year more than 500 tons of goods were recycled. Eight percent of those goods went back into welcome homes.
In addition, in 2013 The Wish Project was recognized by the Cummings Foundation and the Department of Environmental Protection for outstanding work.
In 2014 The Wish Project begins work in January to build a sterilization truck to process all goods coming into the warehouse. It would be a model for the more than 80 furniture banks in the country. In addition, it holds great promise as a mobile unit to be a source of revenue. Staff are now up to 10 with the addition of a Projects manager and development specialist.
Plans for the future
In the short term the organization is seeking more space in the building we already occupy. The long term the goal is to own a building and to increase assets in general.
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.