BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
Imagine walking into an empty home, no furnishings at all, no couches to sit and relax or a dining table to lay a warm meal after a long day’s work. For some families, immigrants, refugees even those coming out of homelessness this is their reality.
Furniture is silent in its power. We understand the role of food, clothing, and shelter in our lives but we often take furniture for granted, until we don’t have access to it. Without it your home would feel big and empty, a foreign place, as home furnishings bring warmth and character to a house, making it a comfortable and safe space to those that reside there.
Nineteen years ago Sister Anne Schenck first introduced Furniture Bank to Torontonians old and new. Back in 1989, she had been working closely with refugee families, and around that time the government had reduced levels of funding for newcomers which made it difficult for them to purchase furnishing for their home.
“I received word through a social agency that there was a lady who spoke no English who was basically, desperate for help. When I entered the house, I saw four kids–all under the age of five–sitting around a little 12″ TV. I did a basic inventory of what she had in the kitchen: two plates, two forks, two tiny pots. I knew I couldn’t cook myself dinner with what she had, let alone cook dinner for these four children. It was that moment that I said to myself that this shouldn’t be happening in the city of Toronto.” Sister Anne states in a past interview with volunteer Cam Gordon.
Inspired by her experience helping new Canadians, and encouraged by the support that she received Sister Anne launched the organization two decades ago. In the years since Furniture Bank has grown into Canada’s largest social enterprise and an archetype for similar services run across the globe.
Now known as the Chief Historian at Furniture Bank and dubbed the Robin Hood of furniture, Sister Anne made it her mission to locate the surplus of furniture wherever it was in the city and bring it to the Furniture Bank where it can be put on display in their warehouse showroom and picked by families in need.
Furniture Bank works closely with various community agencies and shelters throughout the city to meet with clients and help furnish their empty homes. For their clients transitioning out of homelessness or displacement, the furniture has a profound impact on their ability to live dignified and productive lives.
With 46 employees and 1,500 volunteers, Furniture Bank is a 26,000 sq ft building housing gently used Furniture Donations from local Torontonians to give back to families who have come from some form of displacement. They help these families and individuals to restore hope and dignity to their lives by providing them with essential items to make their empty spaces feel more like home.
“The furniture in your home is unique to you, a reflection of your taste something that you personally connected with, and at Furniture Bank they try and stimulate a showroom feel to provide a memorable, and helpful experience to all of our clients,” says Dan Kershaw Executive Director at Furniture Bank.
Over the years they found that there were a lot of people who wanted to help, but they didn’t want to or didn’t have the capability to move the furniture on their own.
“Furniture Bank became a social enterprise, and so to accommodate and facilitate more donations we mimic a junk removal business where we charge a removal fee, collect the donations and bring it back to the organization,” Kershaw explains. “Some of the furniture that we collect today will be in a home within 72 hours of being dropped off at the Bank.”
People interested in making donations to the Furniture Bank are encouraged to drop off gently used furniture and household goods during their drop off hours Monday – Friday from 9 am to 12 pm by appointment only. All drop off furniture items need to be fully assembled, and you will be required to fill out a tax receipt form in order to receive a charitable donation receipt.
If you are unable to drop off your furniture donations you are welcome to take advantage of their removal service by giving them a call at 416-934-1229 where they will provide a quote and arrange a pickup time.
Moving or downsizing, and have extra furniture you no longer need or don’t have space for? Call them to find out about their 2 services in 1! Their moving partner You Move Me will move your belongings to your new home and transfer any unwanted furniture to us, to be donated to families living without the dignity of furniture.
Every year the Furniture Bank redistributes thousands of furniture items and household goods to the formerly homeless, women and children escaping abusive situations and newcomers and refugees to Canada.
“We are always looking for dining room tables, beds, basic household items, devices, side tables, and cupboards, core items that are picked by families and will have to be restocked based on what we are able to collect from the community,” Kershaw says. “Whereas there are other charities might take donated items and sell it them back, our furniture is picked by families and given to them at no charge.”
Furniture Bank services are not open to the public, all of their clients come from the community shelters and agencies throughout the city by appointment only. When they arrive, each client is matched up with a volunteer and then they have forty-five minutes to browse the showroom and identify items that suit their needs. After they have finished, they ‘check out,’ and items are arranged for delivery to their home by the next day.
Thanks to the support of the community over the last year, 10,733 people live with the comfort of a furnished home. These donations have helped to restore hope and dignity for women and children dislocated from their house after escaping a violent home, allowed newcomer families to comfortably settle after fleeing war-torn countries and bring stability back to the lives of the formerly homelessness.
For more information about Furniture Bank or to find out about their services and programs visit: www.furniturebank.org, your used furniture will change a life!