Bounce houses: Realtor's inflatable endeavor helps feed the hungry in Federal Way

David Berg is using inflatable toys, known as bounce houses, to help the Federal Way community and market his real estate services.

Berg, who lives in Northeast Tacoma, is offering free one-day rentals of a bounce house to anyone willing to donate canned goods or gently used clothing. The items are donated to a Tacoma church and Federal Way's Multi-Service Center.

Berg, a realtor at Keller Williams Realty, was turned on to the bounce house idea last summer after he rented one of the inflatables for his daughter's birthday. He later heard someone in Texas was taking canned good donations in exchange for bounce house rentals. Berg, who is encouraged by his employer to get involved in the local community, decided to try his hand at the practice. He bought two industrial-sized bounce houses at an estimated cost of $2,000 each, then posted advertisements on Craigslist.

Roughly 10 families have donated goods in exchange for a free bounce house rental, Berg said. Residents from around the South Sound region — Federal Way, Puyallup, Tacoma, Gig Harbor and more — have shown an interest in Berg's project. The bounce houses have been a hit with the younger crowd.

"Kids love them," Berg said.

The parties benefit the host and Berg. Berg is able to advertise his real estate services and network through the project. He collects the names and numbers of people who attend the parties and passes on his business and contact information. When the host or guests are ready to buy or sell property, Berg hopes they'll remember him and his bounce house.

The benefit isn't one-sided. People renting a bounce house in a traditional way would generally pay a few hundred dollars. Berg offers his inflatables for as little as one can of non-perishable food. The more donations, the better, but Berg has not set a minimum donation requirement on his service. Regardless of how much is donated, he delivers an inflatable, sets it up and picks up the charity items. Most families have donated a few boxes of canned goods, Berg said.

Federal Way resident Sarah Carbary will soon be among the families that have exchanged canned goods for a bounce house rental. Next month, she will host her son's fourth birthday party, complete with a bounce house. Carbary, an avid coupon user, saw an advertisement for Berg's services in a local coupon book. Knowing how expensive bounce house rentals can be, she decided the idea was perfect for her situation.

Carbary took her older son to Lynnwood's Pump it Up, an indoor commercial bounce house emporium, for his fourth birthday. Pump it Up offers 2-hour birthday parties for up to 25 children starting at $205, according to Pizza slices, beverages, goodie bags and balloons are offered at an additional cost of up to $10 each. With Berg's help, Carbary's younger son will get a full day of bounce house fun, and Carbary will save a few hundred dollars.

As a bonus, Carbary gets to feel good about giving back to her community. She has high hopes of covering a home basketball court with canned goods to donate.

"The idea, in general, is a great way to give back to the community," she said.

The project has been a success so far, Berg said. Food donations are delivered to St. Leo's Church in Tacoma. Berg said he chose St. Leo's because it's well-established in the Tacoma community and operates a soup kitchen to feed the homeless. Berg recently started accepting clothing donations. These are dropped off at the Federal Way clothing bank.

Berg hopes to encourage more donations through a partnership with Tacoma's Catherine Jeannette photography. The studio is offering a free kids birthday/bounce house photo shoot to anyone who donates a minimum of 300 canned goods. Catherine Jeannette photographer and business owner Cathy Robison helps Berg market his real estate services. She got involved in the bounce house project to attract more customers, create a name for her business and help local people in need.

"I would like to see it continued," Robison said. "The local food banks are really in dire need of more food."

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