I’m always interested in stories about nonprofits that give away products people can use. We all ought to use products as long as we can. Moreover, it’s important to let people know that there’s more to charity than simply writing checks or donating your time. If you expand the ways people can give, you’ll ultimately cause the number of givers to grow.
Last year I wrote about nonprofits that give away pianos, This week I found, courtesy of Washington Post reporter Michael S. Rosenwald, that there are a growing number of organizations that give away used sporting equipment to clubs and nonprofits.
The organization Rosenwald profiles is Leveling the Playing Field, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, Maryland that donates used sporting equipment to low-income families. Since its creation in 2013, Leveling the Playing Field has donated $1.5 million in bats, balls, cleats, and other equipment—and that’s just in the Washington, D.C. area.
These donations are important because nearly everyone believes that children ought to get more exercise, and playing in sports leagues is a good way to do that. But equipment costs money. Rosenwald cites a 2014 study from the University of Florida which found that 33 percent of children whose families earned more than $100,000 played sports, while only 15 percent of kids whose families earned less than $25,000 played in organized leagues.
Leveling the Playing Field’s founder, Max Levitt, says he came up with the idea for the nonprofit while in college at Syracuse University. He managed the football team, and was regularly told to take slightly used equipment and toss it in the Dumpster. This made no sense to him. Nor did a similar policy that was in effect when he worked for recreational leagues in Montgomery County, Maryland.
“I wanted to start something on my own, to hopefully change a systemic problem,” Levitt said. So he asked friends and neighbors to leave donations in his parents’ garage. Then one day Under Armour showed up with “an enormous truck hauling seven pallets of equipment, dumbfounding Levitt’s mom.”
So Levitt raised enough money to rent a warehouse. He then formed partnerships with the area’s baseball, hockey and soccer teams to collect equipment, as well as arrangements with synagogues and civic organizations who come to the warehouse and help him sort equipment.
Leveling the Playing Field isn’t an isolated case. Their Baltimore-area counterpart is All Kids Should Play, that Hereford High School senior Robbie Palmisano founded in Phoenix, Maryland in 2013. According to a 2014 article in the Baltimore Sun, the idea for the nonprofit began when a nearby elementary school wanted to get rid of 200 pairs of roller skates so they could put basketballs in. A call was made to Robbie Palmisano’s father, Rick, an area basketball coach, and father and son decided it would be better if the skates found a home. They found an inner-city recreation center whose patrons could eagerly use the skates, and a new nonprofit was born.
Robbie Palmisano will happily take anything, except used football helmets. Trial lawyers have made sure that football helmets can’t be recycled.
Other cities have similar organizations: The Sports Shed, for example, recycles sporting equipment contributed in the suburbs northwest of Chicago. According to Michael Rosenwald, Dick’s Sporting Goods has some sort of national recycling effort, but I couldn’t find this on their website, which does detail the company’s generous grants to local youth sports leagues.
Also of interest is a group called Restore Sports, which says it has made arrangements with a website called Sideline Swap, which is online market for used sports equipment. If you want to give sporting equipment away rather than selling it, Restore Sports has an arrangement where the equipment is posted online and recipients directly connect with the donors, thus eliminating the need to store goods in a warehouse.
These recycling activities are worthwhile. Once people get used to the idea of giving away goods they might feel comfortable with other forms of giving.