“We’re going back where we started,” said Kate Bialo, president and executive director of Furniture Sharehouse, about the upcoming March 20 furniture drive at Mamaroneck High School. Mamaroneck was where the not-for-profit organization held its first effort to collect gently-used and new furniture for free distribution to needy families.
The year was 2007, and the need was exacerbated by back-to-back floods in the area. But the numbers of Westchester families experiencing financial hardships has grown even greater since then, fueled by the economic downturn.
The current drive is sponsored by two MHS service clubs, the Clothes Closet and Habitat for Humanity. On Saturday, March 20, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, furniture (new or in good condition) can be dropped off at the Mamaroneck High School parking lot on the Boston Post Road. Donations are tax-deductible; furnishings will go free of charge to eligible families.
First Furniture Drive Was Born in the 2007 Flood
|Furniture Drive: March 20, 9-1
By Furniture Share House, MHS Habitat Club & Clothes Closet Club
Gently-used or new furnishings
March 20, 9-1
Drop Off: MHS – Boston Post Road Lot
Clothing Drive: March 29-April 17
By MHS Clothes Closet Club
Good condition clothing and shoes for men, women, children
Drop Off: PDQ and Pink on Palmer, both on Palmer Avenue in Larchmont.
Furniture Sharehouse was just getting organized in April of 2007 when the area was hard hit by floods that devastated many Mamaroneck homes. Within a month of the flooding, Ms. Bialo had arranged for two tractor trailers and a tent at Harbor Island to facilitate collection and delivery of furniture to those in need. Sixty-five families were served within a month of flooding.
Since then, Ms. Bialo and Furniture Sharehouse have assisted some 2200 people, half of them children. More than 8300 items of furniture have been distributed. The items were worth more than $650,000 at thrift shop prices, but as explained by Ms. Bialo, “Our clients can’t afford thrift shop prices.”
Clients include those moving out of homeless shelters into permanent housing, battered women and children escaping domestic violence, and victims of floods, fires or other natural disasters.
To ensure that the furniture goes to those who truly need it, clients are referred by the Hispanic Resource Center, the Washington Housing Alliance and approximately thirty other Westchester social service agencies.
Volunteers Run the Show
From the beginning, the furniture bank has been an all-volunteer organization. From a dozen or so volunteers at Mamaroneck Harbor – many of whom are still active – the volunteer corps has grown to approximately fifty. Some two dozen volunteers are based at the warehouse, near the Westchester airport. Others work behind the scenes to schedule clients, answer phone calls and emails, and coordinate with various member agencies.
Harry Lennon, owner of the Scarsdale Furniture Doctor, has visited the warehouse each Wednesday morning for the past year and a half. He makes minor repairs on premise and hauls away pieces that need more elaborate attention, returning them the following week.
The items that Mr. Lennon takes “for a little refreshing” are often claimed by clients as soon as he unloads them, said Ms. Bialo.
Like Mr. Lennon, many volunteers are fixtures at the warehouse. Ms. Bialo is there on both Wednesdays and Thursdays, the two mornings that the warehouse is open for donors to make deliveries and for clients to select furniture.
Volunteer Marie Graham is there most days as well, and she also works behind the scenes on publicity and recruiting volunteers. “I volunteer because I feel like I am helping to make an immediate, meaningful and substantial difference in someone’s life,” she said. “When the basics are met, so many other things fall into place.”
Furniture Sharehouse is always looking for ways to extend the volunteer workforce. In 2008, volunteers from the Pepsi Bottling Group in Somers painted the warehouse. Currently, Ms. Bialo is looking for a volunteer who can pour concrete to reinforce and repair the crumbling front edge of the warehouse’s loading dock platform.
Why Furniture Drives Matter
Furniture Sharehouse has an annual budget of $85,000, most of which goes for rent at the warehouse and for trucking expenses to collect furniture. Pickups are made by Dave Vitullo of D&L Associates in Port Chester. Although he gives Furniture Sharehouse a reduced rate, expenses for picking up thousands of pieces of furniture county-wide add up.
As a result, donors are encouraged to deliver furniture to the warehouse when possible, and those who need pick-up are requested to contribute $20 to help defray expenses. And Ms. Bialo and her team have learned that “drives big and small” are an excellent way to build inventory without incurring pick-up costs. The drives also create meaningful service opportunities for those looking to contribute.
Last fall, for example, the Community Unitarian Church of White Plains sponsored a lamp drive, in addition to donating 25% of their September plate offerings. Approximately 16 congregants also braved the frigid weather and the unheated warehouse for the last furniture drive, held on February 6.
MHS Students Step Up
Given the mission of Furniture Sharehouse, it’s no surprise that two MHS service clubs are sponsoring the March 20 drive. Michael Stein, president of the Habitat for Humanity Club, explained that the idea of Habitat “is to help out your neighbors and make sure that people at home are taken care of. The furniture drive sticks to that.”
Emma Lobel of the Clothes Closet Club agreed. The club she founded with Rebecca Ward last year collects used clothing for distribution to needy families at the Mamaroneck CAP Center. Although they are busy planning their next clothing drive, they also wanted their club to be involved in the furniture drive. “The point of both is to help our own local community,” Emma said.
The two MHS clubs have been helping to publicize the furniture drive. Together, they will provide nearly two dozen volunteers to help load furniture.
Opportunities to Help After the March 20 Drive
Furniture Sharehouse operates year-round at its warehouse near the Westchester airport. Each Wednesday and Thursday morning, volunteers can be found there accepting donations and helping clients select furnishings. For more information or to donate or schedule a furniture pickup, visit www.furnituresharehouse.org.