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Gear to Grow...and Give Away

by Seth Levy
August 22, 2011

Gear to Grow beneficiary Waypoint Adventure takes Boston area youth hiking, snowshoeing, paddling, and more.

Face it: The majority of companies and people attend Outdoor Retailer to buy or sell gear. All those shiny new shells, lights, and tents could be yours — for a price.

But not everything at the show comes with a price. Gear to Grow just wants to give its goods away.

Founded by JT VonLunen and Corey Kirkwood in 2009, nonprofit Gear to Grow collects excess or slightly used outdoor gear from retailers and manufacturers, and gives it away to nonprofits that introduce individuals to outdoor recreation.

Many small organizations invest heavily in programs to get people outside, says VonLunen, but, paradoxically, have little left over to buy the necessary outdoor equipment.

Outward Bound Adventures (OBA) serves urban underserved youth, young adults, and their families in the Los Angeles area.

That's where Gear to Grow, based in Utah, comes in.

Gear to Grow began as a pilot program with five beneficiaries in the fall of 2009, when VonLunen found it difficult to donate surplus outdoor equipment and apparel he had received as an outdoor gear reviewer for an online magazine. Retailer was the founding donor.

With the help of co-founder Kirkwood, Gear to Grow quickly grew into a permanent organization with a mission to supply outdoor equipment to nonprofits dedicated to outdoor recreation, preservation, conservation, or education.

More than 70 nonprofit organizations now benefit from Gear to Grow, receiving gear that gets their participants outside, including: Rivers of Recovery, a recreational rehabilitation program for veterans; Peak 7 Adventures, a Washington and Oregon nonprofit serving underprivileged and at-risk youth; National Ability Center, which provides affordable outdoor sports and recreational experiences to people of all ages and abilities, and Next Step Recovery, a substance abuse treatment program.

JT VonLunen, co-founder of Gear to Grow, with Derek Young and Cindy McNaull of CORDURA at Outdoor Retailer.

In 2010, Gear to Grow facilitated more than $322,000 worth of in-kind donations to beneficiaries across the country.

At this month's Outdoor Retailer, Gear to Grow upped the ante, with support from CORDURA, and held a gear drive, collecting donated seconds, samples, and even pristine outdoor products.

Demand is high, says VonLunen, who manned a large wheelbarrow where companies could drop off gear during OR.

CamelBak was the first to contribute to the OR Gear Drive. Its donation of 15 backpacks arrived a week before the trade show started, and all but one pack had been donated before the show began.

A week after OR, Gear to Grow tallied donations from more than two dozen companies, including: three boxes of stoves, dry bags, and sleeping pads from Cascade Designs; 210 tents from Mountain Hardwear; more than $15,000 worth of apparel from Icebreaker; and 28 coolers from Igloo.

Products Donated to Gear to Grow
A truck full of products donated to Gear to Grow at Outdoor Retailer. (Photo: JT VonLunen)

Fabric manufacturer CORDURA pitched in by donating booth space at the show and advertising the gear drive as part of their CORDURA Cares initiative.

(You can see a photo album of OR donations on Gear to Grow's Facebook page.)

Says Waypoint Adventure, a beneficiary that provides outdoor adventure activities for Boston-area youth and adults with and without disabilities:

"We were very grateful to receive the donations from Gear to Grow. Many of our participants are restricted by a lower socioeconomic status, and these donations have helped us keep participants properly clothed on our adventures."


For More Info:

Non-profits should visit to learn more about beneficiary requirements.

Brands, manufacturers, retailers, or buyers that are interested in donating items to Gear to Grow should contact JT VonLunen at 801-243-0731 to receive details on shipping information. Gear to Grow asks donors for returned products, sample items, overstocks, out-of-season, or secondhand items. 


(Disclosure: The author has served on the board of or worked for several nonprofits that receive donations from Gear to Grow.)