A worker has some chairs on the move at the Furniture Bank, where they deal with helping needy families all year round. Photo courtesy Furniture Bank

This is one bank built on gift of giving

By 
  • December 18, 2018

Christmas may come but once a year, but at the Furniture Bank they keep their eyes and ears open to the season year-round.

Toronto’s Furniture Bank is on the lookout for gently used furniture to help families transitioning out of homelessness or displacement 365 days a year, and volunteers can come across Christmas goods — trees and ornaments — on any of those days. They gladly store them until Christmas comes calling.

“We set them aside and we keep them until the holiday season and then the volunteers put them out in the shåowroom,” said Dan Kershaw, executive director of the Furniture Bank.

“We make sure families if they wish to are able to go home with various Christmas decorations that they can add to their home when they are getting their furniture. It’s an added extra over and above what they are coming for as a priority.”

It all fits with the vision of Sr. Anne Schenck, who in 1996 set the wheels in motion for the Furniture Bank. She was visiting a client of Catholic Immigration Services, a family of six, who were living in an empty apartment. On her way home, she came across a used sofa that had been left at the curb for disposal. It gave rise to the charity and social enterprise that would facilitate the transfer of used furniture to those in need.

Sadly, says Kershaw, the need is no greater at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Refugees, families escaping abusive situations and those transitioning from homelessness never go away. The need is always there. But often he sees an upswing in donations as the Christmas season approaches.

“We do see donors are getting ready for the holidays, many are buying new things and we’ll find just before the Christmas holidays a bit of a surge in donated items coming in,” he said.

The need at the Furniture Bank has been growing. From serving just over 900 families in 2000, they now support more than 7,000 families annually, Kershaw said.

More agencies working with those in need have discovered the Furniture Bank over the years and that has translated into more clients — and more need. Supplies can be tight. A donation will be brought to its bustling south Etobicoke warehouse — the Furniture Bank’s permanent home since 2012 — in the morning, transitioned to the showroom floor that afternoon and into a client’s home by as early as the next day. Generally, Kershaw said, donations go “from your home to the next home in 72 hours.”

Such short timelines can also be an issue, he said.

“We’re always 72 hours away from not having furniture and appliances to give to families.”

 For those in need, Christmas is every day. “We’re always in need year round. So when people have good furniture they no longer need, and housewares and small appliances, they’re always needed at the Furniture Bank,” said Kershaw.

The Furniture Bank can be contacted at (416) 934-1229 or visit furniturebank.org.

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