Washingtonians of the Year 2012: John Kane

Giving New purpose to old office furniture.
Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
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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