Changing lives and eliminating poverty with furniture
Imagine opening the door of your first home, and walking into an empty room. No desk to sit at, no bed to sleep in, no kitchen table to eat at, no chair to sit on…These things, which so many of us take for granted, are exactly the obstacles to social progress that the more than 60,000 people who are transitioning out of homelessness per year, experience in Toronto and the GTA. The power that furniture has to improve a life is life-altering. That’s precisely how Furniture Bank perceives its charitable role – serving thousands (20-25 families a day) of displaced – refugees, newcomers, individuals, families, or single mothers – who are transitioning into their first abode.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Furniture Bank is preparing for its 8th annual fundraiser, The Chair Affair. Aiming towards, according to its website, raising “enough funds to furnish the homes of 2,000 more families for a total of 18,000 in 2018,” the gala will bring together 200 of the Bank’s “closest friends,” says Mitchell Prew, VP Marketing, in an evening of wining, dining, dancing, and entertainment.
“Twenty tables for our 20th year, so we can really talk about where we’ve been and where we’re going…and we also want to talk a little bit about the launch of the program that we’re kicking off at The Chair Affair, which is something that we’re calling House-to-Home.” Prew is hush to mention much more.
The sponsored evening (nods to corporate partners 1-800-Got-JUNK?, Re/MAX Hallmark), hosted by HGTV‘s Todd Talbot, will include a performance by award-winning jazz vocalist Matt Dusk before 600+ industry insiders (designers, captains of industry, do-gooders, and party-revellers).
The design community is also a key component, donating upcycled or gently used furniture, and pieces that have been sourced from their clients’ homes. “Designers are creative, and forward-thinking and they see that Furniture Bank is taking an innovative cut at poverty — and having a dramatic impact on the lives of our clients,” says Prew. Participants over the years include Colin and Justin, Jane Lockhart, Sarah Richardson, and Jim Connelly.
Midtown design team, BedfordBrooks Design Inc., is also a long-time participant. “The team at Bedford are leaders in the community, passionate advocates for the elimination of Furniture Poverty and active contributors to our shared mission,” says Prew, emphasising, “In the past they took the lead on Furniture Bank’s inaugural 2017 Golf Classic Fundraiser, they have created a beautiful piece of furniture that sold for the highest bid at our 2017 Chair Affair auction, participating on Chair Affair 2018 committees, and they have further served and continue to serve as ambassadors, connecting Furniture Bank with like-minded, forward-thinking community builders.”
The team at Bedford are leaders in the community, passionate advocates for the elimination of Furniture Poverty and active contributors to our shared mission
As for the Bank itself, Prew says, “Where we were is simply helping fewer families…How we [did] that has been an exercise in what we’ve been doing over the last several years – planning, and figuring the steps, soon, in support of all of the people that we’ve been collaborating with in order to make that happen.” And where they are: “Really…celebrating some of the work that happened this year, with new partners who have come on board, to sort of say, ‘This is a solvable problem, and we want to put a stake in the ground and, actually, really move the needle on a problem that is, again, it’s just solvable.'”
Among its goals? Expansion (“We’re not limited to Canada. The problems facing landfills are North American-wide”), growth (“We need three or four other buildings this size, to serve Toronto”), and awareness (“The number one thing that I hear every day…is, ‘Furniture Bank, ‘If only I…,’ or ‘I just…,’ or ‘My mother just yesterday…,’ so everybody has just gotten rid of furniture, everybody has furniture in transition, everybody is just moving, or is about to. If only they knew about us and knew that we were an option…”).
This is a solvable problem, and we want to put a stake in the ground and, actually, really move the needle on a problem that is, again, it’s just solvable.
Described as “a registered charity and social enterprise that transforms lives by transforming gently used furniture from generous donors for people in need,” Prew elaborates, “We grew in 700 days, from helping 5,000 to 11,000 people. We helped over 100% more people in 700 days. To say that, in the next 700 days, we can do that again, with a new building and a new partner, who’s ready to generate an impact. That’s really been the beautiful thing.”
“Dignity is something we talk a lot about here,” he says. “You can just see the power of how people feel when they have the things they need to have a productive and healthy life.”
We grew in 700 days, from helping 5,000 to 11,000 people. We helped over 100% more people in 700 days…That’s really been the beautiful thing.
As he takes me on a tour of the 16,000 sq. ft. warehouse, the organisation’s multi-tiered, problem-solving capabilities are evident – social: “This room…turns over every 48-72 hours,” says Prew, environmental:“We kept over 4 million pounds of furniture out of landfill last year,” and educational: “We run a Leg Up program, and we have a number of social hires, so while we are building on all of this infrastructure and keeping things out of landfills, and keeping furniture to people’s homes, we’re doing it while providing job opportunities…to develop skills by creating employment opportunities in our warehouse, in our wood shop, in our trucks…”
Unsurprisingly, its more than 90 social services partners (Covenant House, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, CAMH…), has grown, over 2017, to 150 social services whose clients are in need. Not to mention the referral service partnership of 1,500 corporate volunteers (Endy, Casper, Re/MAX Halmark…).
As it approaches its yearly fundraiser, at which time it will have furnished more than 18,000 homes, the organisation’s Executive Director, Dan Kershaw, looks to the future: “As we embark on our next three-year plan, [it’s] really about building the mechanisms to be able to support…the scale we are, we have to have logistics, we have to have point-of-sale, we have to have technology…when I meet other furniture banks that are at a much smaller scale, they look at us and say, ‘We could never do that,'” he says. “We’re designing a system so we could handle the technology components for all furniture banks.”
As far as The Chair Affair, which raised almost $100K last year, Kershaw says, “What we’re trying to do this year is [more than] double it. We could raise a quarter million dollars in one year.”
Prew emphasises the social resolution: “I do see a universe where we create the infrastructure to make sure that all perfectly good furniture finds a second life, which would very well go beyond the homeless issue.”
ANASTASIA SILVA is the entrepreneur and director of production, design and brand enterprise at The New Romantic Renaissance (by AVS). While she works towards the official launch of her firm, she is thoroughly enjoying her job as a copy editor and sometime writer at VL. www.thenewromanticrenaissance.com