- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

BALTIMORE | A rusty, 3,000-square-foot Highlandtown warehouse is the unpretentious headquarters of a Baltimore organization fighting poverty by giving away everything - yes, everything - that’s donated.

Bonnie Nordvedt is the Baltimore Free Store’s administrator. As the group’s Web site puts it, Free Store’s founders and volunteers are tired of “useful, usable stuff” going into landfills “while people live in poverty.”

“Everything can be reused and recycled,” said Kathleen Williams, a Free Store volunteer. “Americans are wasteful, and we’re finding a way that we don’t have to be wasteful.”

Ms. Nordvedt added, “People think it’s junk because they just get sick of looking at it. It’s not junk. It can be used by other people.”

So the Free Store was formed to “empower communities to come together and meet these needs through giving and taking,” according to the Web site.

Volunteers sort donated items - once a month, everything from computers to clothing and ironing boards to karate uniforms is put out for the public to take.

Dani Smith of Towson brings items she longer needs because she knows it’s not going to be resold or junked, which she said often happens at thrift stores or other similar charity organizations.

“You never know if it got to the people who needed it,” she said.

Tammi Stauffer of Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood has had the same experience.

“I’ve taken stuff to the Salvation Army and seen them dump stuff in the Dumpster they didn’t need.”

In 2004, Matt Warfield founded the Baltimore Free Store as a Towson University student who rummaged through garbage cans for school supplies. He left the organization last summer, not long after the Open Society Institute’s Baltimore office gave the Free Store a $48,000 fellowship.

Now volunteers - who all have day jobs, sometimes more than one - are the sole support for that mission when they sort tons of clothes, furniture and assorted items such as used appliances and telescopes.

Ms. Nordvedt, 22, has been administrating the store’s needs since September, helping them to pay their $350 rent and truck rental fees.

A core group of 15 devoted volunteers, such as David Slebzak, keeps the organization going, Ms. Nordvedt said.

Mr. Slebzak and his sons recently took two shopping carts full of children’s clothing back to their Highlandtown neighborhood.

“We get clothes, and what we don’t use, we give to other people,” he said. “There’s always someone else out there who can use it.”

Even if he doesn’t have items to share with others, he invests his time in the community by matching up shoes - which are donated by the thousands - and binding them together for families that will get the shoes.

“You don’t just come to get,” Mr. Slebzak said. “You come to help, too.”

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