Wendy Serrino’s Mission for North Shore Exchange: Help Chicago Charities Fight the Trauma of Poverty

Today on Mission Matters Business Podcast, Adam Torres welcomes Wendy Serrino, the founder and board chair of North Shore Exchange. She describes her philanthropic journey and discusses its impact on poverty in the Chicago area.

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Wendy Serrino is on a mission to alleviate the trauma of poverty in the greater Chicago area. Through a combination of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, she strives to cultivate positive change in the Chicagoland community, with particular emphasis on children and families living in poverty. What started in 2013 as a small resale shop has since expanded into the digital realm, increasing its reach and amplifying its impact along the way.

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What Mission Matters to you?

Wendy’s mission is to find more revenue sources for organizations working to relieve poverty in the greater Chicago area. Since its founding in 2013, Wendy says, the vision of North Shore Exchange (NSE) has been “to be a major contributor to alleviating the trauma of poverty in Chicagoland.” 

North Shore Exchange has raised more than $2.6 million through consignments and donations to date, with all proceeds going directly to local nonprofits.

What is North Shore Exchange?

North Shore Exchange is a Chicago-based shop selling consigned and donated goods ranging from furniture and luxury household items to jewelry, handbags, and women’s clothing. All funds raised from each sale are conveyed into grants for local nonprofit organizations. Although it originally opened as a brick and mortar, it has expanded over the years into a trio of locations throughout Chicagoland, and most of its products are now available online as well, uploaded to NSE’s website and advertised on its social media channels for easy browsing online.

How did NSE start, and how did it grow?

Wendy worked as a project manager at Kraft for 15 years and made a point of using her business skills for the greater good. She’d been engaged in charitable efforts for some time when she reached a philanthropic turning point: buying an old thrift store and converting it into a luxury resale shop. She launched North Shore Exchange in Glencoe (located on Chicago’s North Shore) in March 2013, and within six months, the shop had raised $75,000 for local charities.  

The pandemic has presented tremendous challenges to the retail sector, but it hasn’t slowed NSE’s giving; in fact, Wendy says it’s been able to allocate the largest grant in its history just this year. This trajectory comes as no surprise: North Shore Exchange received the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce James Tyree Award for emerging business leadership in 2017 for its excellence in the field. That award afforded Wendy’s store $50,000 and five months of free rent, which paved the way to open a second location in 2017. The visibility boost from the expansion led to a third store in 2019, and the website’s sales have blossomed over time as well, tripling in the last year to become comparable in size to that of the physical locations. 

Recently, North Shore Exchange was nominated for the 2021 Chicago Innovation Awards, an honor Wendy says she’s excited about and is eager to meet her fellow nominees later this fall.

Speaking of awards, tell us more about North Shore Exchange: Luxury on a Mission awards. 

The purpose of the Luxury on a Mission program, Wendy says, is to prioritize and award the local agencies most in need of grant funding. This year, North Shore Exchange received overwhelming requests totaling almost $1.5 million from 55 nonprofit organizations. It’s not possible to fully meet that demand at the moment, she says, so her philanthropic committee has extensively vetted all requests and narrowed the field to 14 grantees who will receive $585,000. This will bring NSE’s total charitable grants to well over $2.6 million since 2013, and this year’s grant program is the largest in North Shore Exchange’s history.    

This year’s awardees are Care for Real, CASA Lake County, Chicago Furniture Bank, Connections for the Homeless, Family Promise Chicago North Shore, Family Service of Glencoe, Fenix Centro de Salud Health Center, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Illinois Fire Safety Alliance Burn Camp, Lakeview Pantry, Margaret’s Village, Old Irving Park Community Center, WINGS Program Inc., and The Harbour. Each of these nonprofit organizations focuses on hunger, homelessness, health care, abuse/legal rights for children, or a combination of the above. 

How can the grantees or agencies apply for funds for charity through NSE? 

A Chicago-area agency can apply through the Philanthropy tab on the North Shore Exchange website if more than 75% of its focus is on people living in poverty. The process begins with a letter of intent to apply for a grant, and all grant applications are thoroughly vetted by NSE’s philanthropy committee to determine which applicants will become recipients. 

Once awarded, all funds are tracked to ensure proper allocation; grant recipients are required to submit reports on how the funds are being used, which in turn helps Wendy and her team determine eligibility for additional funding in the future. 

What’s next for North Shore Exchange?

“Our mission is to end poverty in Chicago,” Wendy says. “We want to give bigger grants to agencies so that they can think big and do more for their constituencies.”

Wendy and her team have awarded more than $2.6 million in grants NSE’s first eight years in business, and she says she’s confident another $2.5 million will be awarded in the next five. 

How can people show their support? 

To keep up with North Shore Exchange or shop its inventory, follow the nonprofit on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Donors can use the Contact page on https://northshoreexchange.org or email [email protected]. Volunteers wishing to work in-store, provide legal advice or warehouse support can also get in touch via the website.