Nobody should have to sleep on the floor.
With that simple motto, members of Rotary Burlington North launched its Furniture Project in 2020. Then, the goal was to support two families in need per month with the furniture and items they needed to make a house a home. They have far surpassed that milestone: to date, the project has provided about 100 clients with gently used, good-quality furniture - and the need continues to grow. Between July 1 and Oct. 22 this year, 36 families accessed the program.
The Furniture Project supports individuals and families who are forced to leave their homes quickly and set up in a new location. Many are referred by women’s shelters or agencies that assist refugees. All find themselves in an unfamiliar place, with little more than the clothes they are wearing.
Clinton Howell and fellow Burlington North Rotarian Kate Johnston have been involved with the club's Furniture Project since it launched. Howell said the program faced a few challenges during the early days of Covid restrictions but with the proper protocols in place, they worked straight through the pandemic.
“It was deemed an essential service,” he said during a recent pickup day as he and volunteers Linda Howell (his mom) and Bill Leggitt unloaded a trailer full of donated chairs, couches, tables, desks and other assorted items.
The model for the program was inspired by a conversation with Fresh Start Project founder Nancy Milton. Howell said that while Fresh Start, which now operates in six cities, does a great job of providing the basic household items that fill a home’s cupboards and drawers, a gap remained.
“The question came up, ‘What do you do for furniture?’,” he said. “There are people who are experiencing furniture poverty.”
In-kind and monetary donations give The Furniture Project a solid foundation. Howell provides the use of his trailer for pickups, and the program's $2,000 annual operating expenses are covered by the Burlington North Rotary club.
Volunteers from the 48-member Rotary Burlington North club, along with family members and other community volunteers, make up the Furniture Project's 12-15 core team. Burlington residents looking to re-home gently used furniture, including mattresses, can get on the list for a pickup, Once a month, two trucks are dispatched to homes around the city from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Once they are ready to drop off, the volunteers get into some heavy lifting, emptying the trailers, snapping a photo of each item and then finding a spot in one of the two units donated by Access Storage on Fairview Street.
The callout for furniture items is done by word of mouth and social media, and it has been successful enough that the program doesn’t need to expand the pickup route outside of Burlington.
The outstanding response from local donors created the need for a system to track the ever-revolving inventory. Howell demonstrated an app that allows volunteers to upload photos of each item and details on where to find it in the storage facility. Clients, all of whom are referred through local agencies and charitable organizations, are provided with a link that allows them to select the items they would like to reserve. They are responsible for arranging the pickup, and some are eligible for assistance from Shelter Movers, a non-profit organization that transports goods at no charge.
In some circumstances, volunteers will deliver the items. Recently, Howell was part of a delivery crew after police referred a woman to them who had fled an abusive family home with her two children. When the team arrived at their one-bedroom apartment, they found the unit almost bare, with just a few toys and a mattress on the floor. When they left, everyone had a bed to sleep in.
“That’s why we do it,” said Howell, a Re/Max agent. “Now she can move on to other things, like finding a job and figuring out what comes next. That makes it worthwhile for us.”
To learn more or make a furniture or monetary donation, contact Howell at 905-537-2246.