A few days ago, Cynthia Mussinan fielded a phone call from a woman who needed a bed.
“I said, ‘What size bed do you need?’” Mussinan recalled. “She said, ‘I don’t have anything, so I’ll take whatever you can give me.’”
The comment set off alarms in Mussinan’s head. The Howell resident has been managing a group of church-based volunteers that collects discarded furniture and delivers it for free to Shore residents in need for the past 10 years, since superstorm Sandy wracked the region.
She would learn that this woman’s family of five was living in a Neptune apartment with virtually no furniture.
“I said, ‘Where is everyone sleeping now?’” Mussinan said. “She said, ‘On the floor.’ I said, ‘OK, one twin bed is not going to help. Let’s start over.’”
‘People say they need help, and we help’
On Monday, Mussinan and a handful of other volunteers filled three pickup trucks with donated furniture and made two stops. The second was to this family in Neptune.
“We gave them a queen bed for the woman and her husband and a twin bed for the daughter, and futons for their two boys, plus chairs, tables, lamps, pots and pans and towels,” Mussinan said.
Mussinan is 75 years old and a retired chemist. She is a member of Manasquan’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where this furniture bank began in 2012. The do-gooders who haul all this furniture around are mostly retirees or close to it. It’s laborious, sometimes backbreaking work, but recipients’ reactions keep them going.
“I’ve had people sit right down on the front steps and cry when we give them somebody else’s old, used dresser,” Mussinan said. “It’s amazing. We’re helping old people, disabled people, single parents, homeless veterans living in motel rooms.”
They made their last Sandy-related delivery five years ago. By then the word was out, and the calls kept coming.
“Now we don’t ask why people need the furniture,” Mussinan said. “We don’t do any paperwork. People say they need help, and we help as best as we can.”
Monday’s delivery in Neptune was the 1,716th since the furniture bank started.
“It doesn’t end, but it’s very rewarding,” Mussinan said. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
A church’s outreach
This month marks the 100th anniversary of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church’s founding. The property, a little more than a mile from the beach, was purchased in 1922 from the local Presbyterian church for $1 ($17 in today’s money) and “a promise that God would be worshipped at least one day per week,” explained Holy Trinity pastor Mary Farnham, who has led the congregation for 26 years.
Today the sanctuary and grounds look much like they did a century ago. Holy Trinity inherited and upkeeps the site’s Presbyterian cemetery, which includes the grave of a 27-year-old Civil War solider named James Madison, who according to his headstone captured a Confederate flag and was “assassinated while in the discharge of his duties” during an 1863 battle.
Another long-standing staple: community outreach. Congregants are deeply involved with Family Promise of Monmouth County, which provides shelter and food for home-insecure families, and an ecumenical food pantry run with Manasquan’s First Presbyterian Church. The furniture bank started with one Holy Trinity member donating a few items in Sandy’s wake and took off from there. Now there are 30 beds, 20 dressers and a whole bunch of other stuff in storage space at Camp Evans in Wall and at Manasquan United Methodist Church.
“Most people (who donate) are just happy their furniture is not going to the curb,” Mussinan said.
‘You cannot tell me that God’s hand is not in this’
Last week Musssinan and her cohorts picked up some donated furniture from a house in Wall. They ran out of room in the truck and left a table with the intent to come back for it the following day.
That night, a man called the furniture bank and said he needed a small refrigerator.
“I said, ‘Nobody’s offered us one of those in three or four years and nobody’s asked for one, but I will write it on the list and who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky,’” Mussinan said. “The next day we drive back to this house in Wall to pick up the table, and sitting next to it in the garage, on a dolly, was a small refrigerator.”
Mussinan asked the homeowner if she was giving the fridge away. The answer: yes. So Mussinan took it and delivered it to the man whose request had seemed like a longshot the night before. Prayer answered.
“You cannot tell me that God’s hand is not in this,” she said.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is celebrating its 100th anniversary the weekend of Sept. 24-25. For more information visit https://www.holytrinity-elca.org/
For more information about the furniture bank, email Cynthia Mussinan at [email protected]. Tax-deductible cash donations to help the furniture bank’s volunteers can be sent via check to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 6 Osborn Ave., Manasquan, NJ 08736 (please indicate “furniture bank” in the memo line).
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected].