Furniture Bank, a local charity that collects used furniture for refugees and low-income families, says donations have spiked during the pandemic.
Louis Marie Mugisha came to Canada from Rwanda as a refugee. A year ago, he was a client of the Furniture Bank and he now works for its delivery team.
“It is really good when you’re looking at how many people you’re helping and how it’s affecting their life. It’s helping people like me, refugees. And people who aren’t able to afford furniture,” Mugisha says.
He says he took this job because he wanted to give back and help others like him.
“It’s really nice to see how you can see an empty house becoming a full house with furniture, with sofas, and you see how people are very grateful for it.”
The pandemic means more people are at home and “spring” cleaning is constant.
“It has reduced the number of families we can actually help,” says David Botha, Program Director at Furniture Bank. “But surprisingly it has increased the number of people wanting to donate.”
The combination of other charities having to reduce the amount of items they can take in with people working from home has made this one of the busiest times the Furniture Bank has ever seen.
“It took us three weeks early on, we shut down. After that, we reopened and just kept scaling up our operations in a way that we could do so safely. So, we are actually now back at full capacity,” says Allen Reesor-McDowell, Executive Director of parent company Matthew House.
Clients usually come to the warehouse to select the items they need, but because of the current lockdown, the volunteers are picking it for them.
“When we first started, we were focused more on refugee claimants,” says Botha. “But, after about a year or so, we discovered that there are more people than just refugee claimants that need furniture. So, we opened up to any low income families.”
Furniture Bank has been around since 2010 and they have furnished more than 6,000 homes in that time, helping more than 18,000 people in need.
“We really are trying to fill the gap between someone who needs housing, has secured housing, but doesn’t have the resources they need to be able to actually furnish their home. So really, just filling that basic foundational need of having beds to sleep on, tables to eat at,” says Reesor-McDowell.
People donating are required to pay a small pre-determined fee based on the item, to cover the delivery costs. Under COVID-19 rules, Furniture Bank says they are an essential service and currently furnishing more than 50 homes per month.