Sr. Anne Schenck of the Sisters of St. Joseph founded Toronto’s Furniture Bank which has impacted the lives of thousands over the past 23 years. Photo courtesy the Furniture Bank

Sr. Schenck leaves legacy of compassion

  • February 25, 2021

Condolence messages have been flowing in along with the tears at Toronto’s Furniture Bank since news broke of the passing of the organization’s founder, Sr. Anne Schenck on Feb. 17.

She died peacefully at St. Joseph’s Residence in Toronto in her 90th year, her 68th in religious life.

Sr. Schenck was a Sister of St. Joseph and an educator but is best known for inspiring the Furniture Bank movement which provides gently used furniture and household goods to people transitioning out of homelessness, escaping abusive situations, refugees and newcomers to Canada. Since 1998 it has impacted the lives of thousands, each year providing essentials to upwards of 5,000 people.

“They’re creating a home and when we give them a choice in the furniture that goes in that home, we’re giving them their dignity and a gift of mercy,” Sr. Schenck said about the Furniture Bank.

It started from her work with refugees in Scarborough, where she would regularly see newcomers moving into apartments with nothing to call their own. She was already collecting furniture and household items for these refugees, and out of that sprang the Furniture Bank.

Staff at the Furniture Bank say Sr. Schenck leaves behind a legacy of kindness and compassion that won’t be forgetten. Several members of the team, still grappling with the news, say she not only gave them a job but transformed their lives, helping them to find meaning.

“I was working in for-profit when I had my daughter and I really started to do some soul searching and wanted to do something different,” said Tammy Peddle, director of social enterprise at the Furniture Bank. “I wanted that meaningful career. I started job hunting and I came across a Furniture Bank job posting and went in for an interview and I was hired that day on the spot. The very next day when I started, there was Sr. Anne. She would light up a room when she was in it. She made time for everyone in her surroundings. Even if she was super busy, she would take the time to say good morning and find out about your family.”

A legacy page on the organization’s website has given staff the opportunity to share personal memories of moments they shared with Sr. Schenck. Many have expressed their gratitude for her inspiring them to join the Furniture Bank movement. 

“It’s really hard to put into words the type of individual that she was, just so strong-willed and seeing that she saw a problem and just continued to go and find the solution,” said Peddle. “Here we are today, 23 years later in the organization and the amount of people that we’ve helped is mind blowing.”

Miroslav Yanesh, a driver for the Furniture Bank, was living in a homeless shelter for 18 months after tragically losing his wife to a heart attack in 2002. He was so devastated at the loss he said his life began to unravel and he found himself unemployed and dejected, until he was given the opportunity through the shelter in 2004 to volunteer at the Furniture Bank. He choked back tears as he remembered Sr. Schenck’s warm energy and the gracious smile she gave him when they first met at the warehouse.

“I was like a person drowning in water and fighting to find something I can hold on to,” said Yanesh, who was offered a job that day by Sr. Schenck. He’s worked there ever since.

“I saw her like my angel of deliverance. I will be owing her forever for what she’s done for me. I could never repay her but I’m trying to repay that to Furniture Bank by doing my job as good as possible.”

Born in St. Catharines, Ont., in 1931, Sr. Schenck obtained her BA in 1952 at the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. Upon graduation she spent many years as a teacher and principal at Catholic schools in Barrie, Oshawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

Among her other endeavours, Sr. Schenck was administrator at Herron Place Refugee Centre and until her recent illness volunteered with Becoming Neighbours, a companion program where she guided and mentored newcomers to Toronto. 

Due to the pandemic, there will be a Mass of Christian Burial at a later date. A private interment was held Feb. 20 at Holy Cross Cemetery in Thornhill.

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