EDITOR'S NOTE: The version of this story published in our September issue incorrectly notes the number of families served by CARITAS Furniture Bank. References to the months of its one-year anniversary and its City Wide Furniture Drive are also incorrect. Those details are corrected in this version. We regret the errors.
Our September Focus page offers a glimpse of the 25,000-square-foot warehouse where the CARITAS Furniture Bank serves Richmonders who are working to recover from homelessness, mental illness, addiction, domestic abuse and other challenges. The CARITAS Furniture Bank, marking its first year, has helped 300-plus families make new beginnings, giving them for free the household items and furnishings they need. The furniture service has been running for five years, but last year, it was absorbed by the nonprofit CARITAS (Congregations Around Richmond Involved to Assure Shelter). "Our slogan is that no child should have to sleep on the floor," says Karen O'Brien, the furniture bank's director. She explains that all household items come to CARITAS through community donations. At the end of this month, the nonprofit is holding its City Wide Furniture Drive, which extends into October.
The furniture bank is a component of CARITAS Works, a division of the larger homeless-services nonprofit. In addition to the furniture services, CARITAS Works offers job training, employment services and mentoring to help formerly homeless clients who are making the transition from temporary shelters into more stable living situations.
O'Brien explains that the same building that houses the furniture warehouse also has classrooms and a computer bank for the job-training programs.
CARITAS works in conjunction with many local nonprofits, but particularly links up with residential alcohol-and-drug treatment center The Healing Place and with Embrace Richmond (whose director, Wendy McCaig, actually began the furniture service in a home garage).
It's a unique intersection of purposes. The furniture bank relies on the community at large for donations of household items, from kitchen tables and couches to beds and dressers. "We never have enough dressers," O'Brien says.
The sorting, moving and distribution of items in the warehouse is handled by young Americorps workers, community volunteers and residents of The Healing Place who are there to pick up job skills.
But not all of the household donations are practical for most families — antiques, tchotchkes, accessories that need assembling and bulky furniture, for example.
So, CARITAS Works finds a way to turn these items into some cash that can help cut overall costs. A small "treasure trove" section allows people to shop for items; the money generated from those sales helps fuel the trucks used to deliver furniture to the nonprofit's clients. Antiques and rare items that might have value are sold online using Web sites such as Craigslist and eBay.
"We don't throw a lot of stuff away," O'Brien says. "We're very green that way."
To bring it all home, these Web-based fundraisers serve as computer-skills training for clients who are in job training at the warehouse.
During the last weekend of September and first weekend of October, The CARITAS Furniture Bank is staging its City Wide Furniture Drive with help from sponsor PODS and other retailers, which will post storage units outside their buildings. Then, in November, the nonprofit will hold its second annual Chair Affair, which auctions off chairs that have been redecorated by local artists.
To learn more about the CARITAS Furniture Bank, visit caritasworks.org .