A metal wire fence about 50 feet wide—“The Cage,” as people call it—encloses rows of desks, cabinets and chairs available for redistribution. People scurry into the warehouse with their hand trucks and push carts, roaming the aisles for items that will fit their needs—all for free.
The facility is Duke Surplus, which serves local nonprofit organizations, as well as the faculty and staff at the University. The program collects unused property on campus—like office supplies or computers—and stores them in a nearby warehouse for future use. Items circulate into the warehouse everyday from faculty who register unused items.
One of the key components of Duke Surplus is the commitment to the Durham community through the donation of surplus equipment to local nonprofits.
“We are helping startup nonprofits in a lot of cases, helping them move to bigger spaces,” said Mary Crawford, senior director of procurement and supply chain management. “It’s saving them money and resources to grow their nonprofit.”
Duke Surplus once operated as property store at Lakewood Shopping Center, selling items rather than reusing or donating them. However, the program changed its business model in 2007, no longer permitting the sale of property. Instead, Crawford explained, faculty and staff at Duke could acquire items available in the warehouse at no cost. During this time, Duke Surplus also began working with nonprofits. Within the past ten years, over 600 nonprofits have registered with Duke Surplus.
One of these nonprofits is the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association which focuses on enabling a clean creek and outdoor education. Six years ago, the nonprofit was placed in contact with the program. Duke Surplus was integral in the progress and expansion of the ECWA.
“Especially early on, we had a pretty small budget and struggled to pay for operating costs," ECWA Executive Director Chris Dreps said. "So as we’ve grown or as we’ve needed to replace equipment, we’ve been able to save a lot of money for equipment like chairs, file cabinets—those kinds of things.”
Dreps added that Duke had also provided his organization support, partnerships and grants throughout the past years.
The Center for Child and Family Health has also been a consistent consumer of the Surplus for almost nine years. A few years ago, the nonprofit—which serves children who have experienced trauma—wished to grow their organization. However, they lacked the funds to buy new furniture and computers, as well as hire new employees. Their solution was Duke Surplus.
CCFH Director of Administration Greg Duncan praised the kindness the Surplus employees showed his administration when the nonprofit first approached the facility. With the aid of Duke Surplus, CCFH was able to expand from 33 to 84 employees, and they continue to utilize the program when needs arise.
Recently, Duke Surplus collaborated with Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers to transport desks and supplies from the warehouse to the nearby boarding school North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.
At the moment, students at the University are not able to utilize Duke Surplus for personal needs. Crawford explained that most items are heavy duty office furniture that would not be useful for a residential setting. However, student organizations are able to receive supplies from Duke Surplus via their faculty sponsor.
Still, Duke Surplus has strengthened the relationship between Duke and Durham and helped make the city a “stronger and healthier community,” Duncan noted.
“I think tensions between Duke and the city have been mended, and Duke has become intentional with its involvement in the community," he said. "Duke Surplus makes such a huge difference in Durham, particularly for nonprofits who are serving the Durham community in so many different ways and provides the support those nonprofits need."