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

Toronto Furniture Bank steps up to aid people in transition

  • June 29, 2009
TORONTO – When Julia Corridon arrived in Toronto five years ago, she found herself being referred, through a shelter, to an unexpected beacon of hope in the form of the Furniture Bank.

Having moved to Canada from the Caribbean, she and her one-year-old son found that life in Toronto wasn’t an easy start. But the shelter, then located in the Annex near the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, gave them a much needed boost which inspired her to help others today. The 27-year-old Corridon is now volunteering at the Furniture Bank, which settled into a larger storehouse in Parkdale this spring.

“I didn’t realize what I would find, but I found a couch, mattresses, dishes, plates, forks and knives,” she said. “It’s something I didn’t expect and really appreciated it.”

Corridon said that when starting from scratch it’s a struggle just to pay the rent and buy food, so having something as little as a spoon can make all the difference. Now as she welcomes clients into the showroom of the Furniture Bank, she is reminded of her own journey and what that help means to everyone who comes through its doors.

“It really benefits the community,” she said. “When the people come in, you see they are nervous but appreciate it.”

The struggles of the homeless and those in transition were — and still are — a pressing issue for Sr. Anne Schenck, C.S.J., founder of the Furniture Bank and currently a member of the board of directors. Schenck’s vision for the Furniture Bank came in the mid-1990s while she was working at the Herron Place Refugee Centre run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The image of a refugee mother living with four children in a high-rise apartment that had nothing more than a small television and hardly enough pots to cook a meal still sticks in her mind.

“People were moving out of refugee centres into empty apartments,” Schenck said. “And yet I was seeing people put good furniture out on the curb.”

Schenck started the Furniture Bank in 1998, encouraged by her superiors, and has been accepting donations of gently used furniture and housewares for clients referred through upwards of 40 agencies ever since. With the added space of its new storehouse, it has been able to go from helping 10 families set up an apartment each day to 15 families. And it operates five days per week instead of three. While  there is a greater need for dressers, tables, pots and pans and linen, lamps are always needed as are bed frames, couches and chairs. Things that would make a home feel more comfortable, like framed pictures, are also welcome, Schenck added. 

Perry Davidson, executive director of the Furniture Bank for the past six months, said he was drawn by “the fantastic concept” and hopes to spread the word a little farther, describing the charity as the best kept secret in town and an environmental gem.

“We help to divert so much of the furniture from landfills and we extend the life of good furniture,” he said.

Last year alone, 726 tonnes of furniture was diverted from landfills. That meant 1,524 homes could be furnished. This year, the goal is 2,000 homes.

Davidson has been leading its 60 staff and volunteers in trying to raise $25,000 by Canada Day. Davidson said it also depends on other funds raised throughout the year and city grants to operate.

“The homelessness problem doesn’t get any better and without those revenue streams we wouldn’t be able to operate,” he said.

The campaign had a jump start in June, with a donation of $5,000 by students from Bishop Strachan School in Toronto.

People who donate furniture or housewares can get an “in-kind” donation tax receipt. Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, including sewing together cushions made from donated material.

For more information about donating or volunteering visit www.furniturebank.org or call (416) 934-1229.

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