Inside busy Silver Spring warehouse, workers hope to end poverty

SILVER SPRING, Md. — There’s no shortage of charities in the D.C. area trying to provide a helping hand to those in need. One of the most ambitious this giving season is A Wider Circle, a grassroots, nonprofit dedicated to the daunting challenge of ending poverty.

“Anybody who studies poverty in this country will tell you that it’s solvable if we have the will, and so A Wider Circle is about trying to bring the will,” said Mark Bergel, president and CEO of A Wider Circle, which he founded in 2001.

The group operates a 10,000-square-foot warehouse chock full of donated furniture, home goods, bedding, clothing and toys. Volunteers sort and prepare the items for the showroom, where individuals and families facing hardship can take what they need.

“We furnish peoples homes, so that everybody has a bed in which to sleep, a table on which to eat a meal, a couch and a coffee table so you can rest at the end of the day. And then we do intensive job training because I’ve never seen anyone get out of poverty without a job,” said Bergel.

The group has 55 staff members and coordinates with 30,000 volunteers each year. A Wider Circle estimates it furnishes about 16,000 homes a year. This month, it will donate 12,000 items.

“No matter who needs help or wants to help, we say yes to that,” Bergel said. “If somebody calls me from Anne Arundel County or Baltimore City, we say yes to them.”

Bergel said the group receives about 600 calls a day, most of them calls for assistance.

A legion of volunteers sort through the donated goods in the sprawling warehouse and prepare them for display in the agency’s upstairs showroom.

“To bring something up, a donated bicycle or a donated doll, to clean it up a little bit downstairs in the warehouse and bring it up and see somebody’s eyes light up and say ‘can I have that,’ it’s really, really special,” said Julie McCullough, of Lanham, Maryland, who volunteers several days a week.

McCullough, who began volunteering in January, said she’s developed a fondness for sorting through things and matching the donated goods with those who need them.

Beyond the showroom stuffed with clean, comfy sofas, sturdy wooden desks and sparkling kitchen items is the Professional Development Center. Lined with men’s and women’s business attire, the center resembles an upscale clothing boutique. Volunteers help those in need select five different business suits to help them not just secure a job, but launch a career.

A Wider Circle touts its holistic approach to ending poverty — furnishing empty spaces, training people for good jobs, counseling and committing energy and resources to helping others.

It may seem an impossible to task to try to end poverty, but the challenge is not a deterrent to A Wider Circle’s staff and volunteers.

“It’s crazy that so many people live in scarcity surrounded by such abundance,” Bergel said. “What we do should be defined by unconditional love. I think that makes a difference.”

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