A “Second Chance” Organization
Alumna Finds Worth in the Waste
At Community Forklift, a reuse warehouse selling home and construction supplies at below market prices, the haystack is a vast former coal gasification plant stuffed with everything from toilets and hardware to chair legs, and the needles are antique mantles, salvaged oil paintings and beautifully weathered barn doors.
Nancy Meyer ’87, CEO of the nonprofit located three miles from the University of Maryland, has some simple advice for anyone undertaking that proverbial search.
“If you see something you want, you should just buy it,” she says. “You won’t find it for cheaper, and you won’t see it again.”
Meyer, who has led Community Forklift since 2007, has an eclectic background uniquely suited to running such an organization. A native of Teaneck, N.J., she originally came to the Maryland area to learn how to make musical instruments, then carved out a trailblazing career, from breaking into the virtually all-male construction industry in the 1970s to running women’s shelters. For her, Community Forklift is about more than diverting housing material from landfills—it’s about changing how we live.
“We’re dealing with an economy of excess,” Meyer says. “How do we re-appropriate the value and redistribute it equitably?”
The donated raw material for this mission comes in every day, unloaded from the cars, trucks and vans of homeowners, contractors and building companies. Valuable items like a desk from a railroad station or a vintage Jimi Hendrix poster attract eagle-eyed shoppers and Hollywood production companies. (Community Forklift furnished Jessica Jones’ bathroom in the eponymous Netflix series).
The nonprofit has salvaged an estimated $30 million in materials since its 2005 founding. In 2016 alone, Community Forklift took in more than 12,000 square feet of tile, 29,000 cubic feet of cabinets, 500 toilets and 13 miles of lumber. And while higher-end vintage items and antique furniture can sell for thousands of dollars (and help keep the lights on), Community Forklift has also donated more than $300,000 in everyday building materials to local organizations and residents.
Although the nonprofit financially teetered in its early years, Meyer helped build it into a company that now has a $2 million budget and 40 full-time employees earning above minimum wage and extensive benefits. Besides not requiring a college degree of her hires, Meyer also makes a point of bringing on people who have had trouble getting employment due to drug histories or health reasons.
“We’re a second chance kind of organization,” she says.