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Washingtonians of the Year 2012: John Kane

Giving New purpose to old office furniture.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

John Kane has owned the US’s largest commercial moving company since 1997, when he bought it from his father. The Kane Company now includes 11 subsidiaries—and a charitable enterprise. In fall 2011, as Kane stood on a loading dock and watched his employees pack landfill-bound furniture into a tractor-trailer, an idea struck him: “Can’t we make better use of these things?”

Enter the Kane Furniture Bank—located in a Rockville warehouse—which makes castoff furniture available to any nonprofit willing to come get it. The Kane Company covers all costs except transportation; recipients simply agree not to sell the items.

“Many businesses have fewer people in the office than they did a few years ago,” Kane says. “They’ve been let go or are working remotely, so companies have more offices than people. When their leases end, they land in smaller spaces and want to get rid of things. But those desks their people were sitting at are fine.” The 259 nonprofits that have cleaned out his warehouse since its creation would agree.

“In the first year, we loaded 110 trailers,” Kane says. “That’s $600,000 worth of furniture.” And it’s not always tables or chairs nonprofits want most but the bins of Post-its, binders, and pens that many businesses never give a second thought.

With his wife, Mary—CEO of the nonprofit Sister Cities International—Kane also funds a scholarship to Georgetown for a student from Takoma Park’s Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School. What good is hard work in high school, Kane asks, without the prospect of higher education? To pass his commitment on, a family dictum holds that each of the three Kane kids will work in charity for at least a year after college.

Says Kane: “I always say that if even we’re suffering, imagine being homeless or an unwed mother managing the health of a little one. Lots of people need a hand. Charity never ends.”

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