Lonnie Bickford, CEO of StorageAuctions.com, based in Baton Rouge, La., recognizes how much the storage industry has provided him throughout his life. “I’ve gotten so much from the storage industry for so long,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to be a giver, and when you give, it comes back, so I’ve just learned to let go of some of it and keep giving back.”
StorageGives’ partnership with Home for Our Troops has helped two disabled veterans in being fitted with homes built for their specific needs. The first home was in Wasilla, Alaska, near Bickford’s home.
The most recent effort was raising funds and putting some sweat equity into a home in Queen Creek Ariz. The organization met its goal to raise $30,000 through the annual golf tournament before the Arizona Self Storage (AZSA) conference this past February.
Bickford says his organization hopes to engage the self-storage industry more in its mission to give back to communities.
Bickford has owned nine different storage-related businesses within his 23 years in the industry. In 2016, he came out of retirement to found StorageAuctions.com. When he re-entered the industry, he didn’t want to just run a business but find a way for the industry to help give back to worthy causes. In 2020, Bickford created StorageGives.
“We are facilitating a platform to connect the storage industry to worthy causes to make an impact in lives all over the world,” says Bickford.
The organization works with eight charitable organizations, says Alonna Ross, business development manager for StorageAuctions.com and StorageGives. Those organizations include many that provide meals for children; Bickford says the organization will provide 500,000 meals for kids this year. As well, the non-profit helps an organization that assists disabled people in obtaining wheelchairs. StorageGives also donates to the Shriners Children’s Hospitals.
Bickford’s companies had an employee who was a veteran, so they decided the organization should do something to help military veterans. “Most people can get behind supporting our troops,” he says, “and helping disabled veterans put their lives back together is a great cause.”
About Homes for Our Troops
Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) was founded in 2004 with the mission of building custom homes for severely injured post 9/11 military veterans. The veterans may have endured severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), lost limbs, or paralysis during their military service. “These homes restore some of the freedom and independence our veterans sacrificed while defending our country, and enable them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives,” the website explains.
Bickford heard of HFOT and began investigating the services it provides. StorageGives is proud that 100 percent of its funds go directly to help people, without administration costs. Ross says Bickford and the board at StorageGives were similarly impressed that 97 percent of all donations given to HFOT go directly toward building the homes for veterans. The StorageGives board was also enthralled that the HFOT board is comprised of retired generals, all donating their time back to the people who served under them.
“They passed our vetting process,” says Bickford, “and we just think they are a great organization.” HFOT has a platinum seal through GuideStar, which ranks charitable organizations based on transparency. Platinum is the highest seal GuideStar gives.
AZSA’s Golf Tournament Benefits Veteran
Each winter, the Arizona Self-Storage Association (AZSA) holds a golf tournament prior to its annual conference. In February 2022, the golf tournament, which was sold out, raised $30,000 for StorageGives, In turn, StorageGives donated the money to HFOT. “Everyone just really pulled together and did a great job for this,” says Amy Amideo, executive director for AZSA in Phoenix, Ariz. “We thought it would be a great way to help get our members involved with a charity they may not necessarily have heard of.” Ross says one of the great parts of helping HFOT is they get to meet and interact with the homeowners. Retired Marine Cpl. Yevgeniy “Yev” Shenker was the veteran who received a custom-built home partly because of the funds raised through the golf tournament.
When Shenker graduated from high school in 2005, he viewed the military as a way to steer his life in the right direction. During his first combat deployment in 2011, Shenker was on a clearing mission in Afghanistan when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded, severely injuring Shenker and six other military personnel. Shenker’s left leg was amputated while his right leg and arm were severely injured.
Shenker found limitations in the previous home that he shared with his wife, Maggie, and their two sons. The home sat on a rocky landscape, which limited Shenker’s ability to go outside and play with his sons. He also couldn’t navigate the narrow doorways or stairs with his wheelchair, requiring him to hop around the home to get from one room to another. The kitchen, which wasn’t designed for people with disabilities, also presented challenges for Shenker, who likes to cook.
The custom home, which the family received keys to in late September, has a navigable yard, where Shenker can play with his children, and was built using Universal Design for people with disabilities.
“Sometimes when people go through hardships, they develop a hard attitude,” says Ross. “Yev just isn’t like that; he is very funny and smiles a lot. The family is extremely grateful and very humbled receiving this home.”
“Your kindness brings happiness to so many veterans who have been struggling since their injury. What you all do for us is truly selfless and gracious. From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough for the gift of a safe place, a home,” Shenker said in a released statement.
High Hopes For StroageGives
One day late this summer, before the Shenker’s received the keys to their home, a group of storage industry volunteers for AZSA’s board, including Ross and her family, Amideo and her son, Chris Rudel from The Rudel Company, Belinda Rosthenhausler from CDC Small Business Finance, and James Appleton of MiniCo, gathered for a workday to help with the landscaping at the Shenker home.
Amideo says it was wonderful to see the home and meet the family. “I think the more we do things as an association, the better,” she says. “After COVID, I think people are wanting to get together, and not just for Happy Hours and workshops but also [for] helping in the community.”
StorageGives is now a national partner with HFOT and will have raised $100,000 for the organization by year’s end. They have set a specific goal to raise $50,000 to help build a home for retired Lance Cpl. Nicholas “Nick” Beberniss. Beberniss was hit in a mine attack in Iraq and sustained a few serious injuries, one that resulted in the ultimate loss of his right leg. Beberniss, his wife, Leslie, and his three children have lived with Leslie’s parents since his return to the States. “In the new home, we plan on having a lot of fun times and happy kids,” Beberniss says.
Bickford hopes more people within the industry will join StorageGives’ efforts or do more things to help grass roots organizations within their communities. “One day, I had a hard workday, but we had also just raised $12,000 for an organization that provides meals to kids,” he says. “The hard day was offset by the fact we are making an impact. For kids to get a meal is a big deal.”
Bickford encourages everyone to find a cause. “Make it something you’re passionate about or pick a cause that can help someone you know,” he says. “I don’t think we’re just all about renting 10-by-10s; I think our role in the world is bigger.”