CEDAR RAPIDS — Susan Johnston was volunteering at her church — Central Church of Christ, 1500 First Ave. NW — coordinating a giveaway for families in need in January when she recognized a need for those transitioning from being homeless or an abusive relationship into new housing.
“When individuals and families transition from homelessness to a new place to live, they often don’t have basic things, Johnston said. “Things you and I might take for granted. It’s not just clothing and household items they need, but furniture.”
Beds, kitchen tables, couches, chairs, dishes, pots and pans, and more — goods a typical household would have to function — are in demand, she said, adding that even if the person had found furniture on Craigslist or at Goodwill, hauling it home might present an entirely different set of barriers.
Johnston came up with a solution. She would test out a new charity that rescues furniture and home goods before they hit the landfill and redirect them to those in need. She called it the Central Furniture Rescue.
It worked so well, she formed a 501(c) (3) and is now leasing warehouse space to help run the operation. They had been just using volunteers’ garages. Horizons also allows free access to a box truck to help with deliveries.
Within four months, the organization had served 21 households. To date, there is a roster of around 60 volunteers who have helped distribute $32,000 worth of goods — using a similar pricing standard as Salvation Army — to 100 households. Each household averaged 22 items worth a total of $325.
She recounted a story of a woman starting a new job the following Monday and had moved into a new home with nothing and had two little girls. Within two weeks, they were fully furnished. Another family of six had been sleeping on the floor in their new home. A couple who spent last winter in the overflow shelter were so proud to have jobs and a place of their own, she said.
She recalled a little girl, after a delivery of cookware, say to her mom, “Mommy, you can cook for us again,” and the mom cried.
“It just breaks your heart,” Johnston said, breaking down in sobs. “It is a life-changing experience. Once you do it a couple of times, when you go to Target, you start to think different about what you put in the cart.”
Deliveries occur most nights of the week. Referrals come from local organizations including Waypoint, Abbe Center, Family Promise, Willis Dady and others.
“It can be so difficult for us to house as many households as we do and expect them to feel like their new place is a home when it is empty,” Alicia Faust of Willis Dady said in a message to Johnston. “Your program allows them to feel like it is a home.”
Alexis Chadwick, domestic violence program coordinator for Waypoint, refers clients who in some cases have fled from unsafe situations with a vehicle’s worth of items or less. And, while places exist to supply low-cost home goods, clients may not have a job and are starting over completely.
“They provide it for free and also deliver for the families and that makes all the difference,” Chadwick said. “It makes a home feel like a home and takes the burden off a parent or parents of something that could take them days and get it done in 20 minutes.”
Donations support the operation, but it still costs about $80 per family, Johnston said.
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