Toolbank USA: Providing Free Disaster Tools in Louisiana and Establishing Permanent Presence

2023-11-24 10:03:11

A nonprofit brought free tools to help Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Ida, and now it’s setting up a permanent presence in the state.

Toolbank USA is a nonprofit that lends and/or rents out tools to other organizations. It has two arms to its organization: the disaster arm and the affiliate arm. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the disaster branch rushed multiple trailers full of construction, demolition and landscaping tools to areas of Terrebonne and Lafourche. In some of those areas they still are being used, such as in Point Aux Chenes by groups like Blessed Assurance and Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief Groups. In Grand Isle, the Cajun Commissary is doing repair work with them.

“The simple mission of Toolbank is to provide tools, equipment and expertise for groups with charitable or service intent to be able to accomplish their most ambitious goals,” said David Melancon, manager of the New Orleans Toolbank. “If someone provides, stores and repairs the tool, then organizations like nonprofit organizations or just community organizations that have some sort of service intent don’t have to spend the money to purchase tools – which then takes money away from their mission.”

Melancon is a native of Thibodaux. He moved away for some time but came back after Hurricane Ida. After doing charitable work in the area for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, he learned of Toolbank and said he had to get involved. The 2,700-square-foot New Orleans hub he now manages has seen such an uptick in requests for tools that, for the first time in the organization’s history, the disaster hub will become a permanent fixture. This means it will transition into an affiliate branch.

By setting down roots and becoming an affiliate, the New Orleans Toolbank will get a board of directors and begin to acquire equipment beyond just what is used in disaster services. The trailers rolled out to disaster areas often include things like chainsaws, rakes, power tools, numerous batteries and chargers, generators and more. When the bank becomes an affiliate, the scope of the equipment expands drastically.

As an example, the Atlanta Toolbank Affiliate, the first tool bank, includes things like party and gathering equipment.

“They have everything from votive tea lights, to tablecloths to hot dog rollers, to popcorn and ice cream carts…” Melancon said. The Richmond affiliate has a gas-powered auger, he said. It just depends on what the area the toolbank serves needs are.

The disaster arm provides tools to nonprofits and other organizations free of charge; whereas the affiliate side offers them at 3% of the total cost of the tool. The rental fee is to help with the cost of maintaining the tools.

Melancon said not to worry, the New Orleans branch will continue to carry out its disaster aid, but will now do both.

“Just because this is called a New Orleans Toolbank does not mean this is just for the New Orleans,” Melancon said. “It’s for anybody willing to make the trip.”

Asked if the disaster aid would continue, Melancon said, “We are right here in the backyard of where disasters happen. We will never turn our backs on folks who need tools for disasters.”

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How do groups request tools?

There are only two stipulations to getting tools from Toolbank: the nonprofit only lends out to groups, and the project the tools will be used on cannot be for a profit. For those who want to sign their organizations up, the website is

Once the organization or group is registered, searching for the tool is a bit like shopping on Amazon. The person scrolls through the website to find what tools they wish to use, and checks to see that they are in stock.

According to Melancon, lending tools to organizations has a twofold purpose, it allows for there to be someone responsible for the tools, and also groups tend to have a greater impact on community than lending to a single person.

The organization started in 1991 when a group of people banded together to repair homes for the elderly, Melancon said. Over time the group developed a tool library and began to organize a way to lend the tools out. In 2008, its board of directors thought the model was so successful it decided to replicate it in other parts of the United States.

There are four disaster services locations: New Orleans, Panama City, Puerto Rico, and Sacramento. Before the end of the year, Tampa will be a new location, followed by Dallas. The affiliate side is comprised of Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Houston, Phoenix, Richmond, and Birmingham will soon join them.

The tools come from donations from corporate partners like Stanley Black and Decker, Home Depot, UPS, the Ford Motor Company, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and The American Red Cross.

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