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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — When Home Again Furniture Bank (HAFB) accepts donations for people who cannot afford to furnish their home, it often ends up with pieces not suitable for clients referred to them through community agencies.
According to Amy Tulk, the non-profit organization’s director of operations, these items, including hutches and large cabinets, often ended up in landfills.
“In order to get the good furniture, a lot of times we were saying yes. If somebody had a table and chairs and a china cabinet, they wanted you to take it all,” Tulk explained.
The china cabinet would ultimately be disposed of, as HAFB did not have a use for it. Tulk saw this happen over and over and began to wonder whether there was a way the organization could find buyers for these items and use that money to buy mattresses. HAFB accepts donations from businesses (including some hotels) and individuals, but the only item it purchases is mattresses.
Three years ago, HAFB struck up a committee, and now after a slew of conversations and written proposals, Again & Again is in business on Hebron Way in St. John’s, selling used furniture and home decor items out of a large store. It opened as a pilot project last November and is now a fully-fledged social enterprise business.
“We did the research, we did a business plan, we did all that and decided, let’s open the doors,” Tulk said.
Since 2015, HAFB has furnished close to 3,000 homes in the Northeast Avalon and diverted hundreds of tonnes of furniture from landfills. Tulk noted the need for their service has increased. In 2022, demand went up by 25 per cent compared to the previous year, and Tulk is seeing that trend continue in 2023.
“With that comes higher cost, and we need to be able to meet the demand,” she said. “We have to add a day delivery or add wherever needed to get to them. Just for an example, all of last year, we had our list (of homes to deliver to) and we were able to keep it around the 50-mark. Right now, it’s at 120, and we’ve been delivering on bust this quarter. We need the furniture to continue, and we need to generate revenue too so that we can afford to continue.”
With help from HAFB volunteers, furniture items sold at Again & Again are cleaned and often fully refurbished to increase their salability. An extra nice antique piece that can sell for a few hundred dollars, for example, will bring in enough revenue to buy two mattresses, Tulk noted.
“Every piece of furniture that’s sold in the store, proceeds support Home Again,” Tulk said. “It’s multipronged in terms of the benefits, because now we are able to take everything that somebody wants to give us. If there’s two good pieces (for HAFB to distribute), and the rest are not so good, they can come here, and then we sell them. The money goes back to the organization. We’re keeping more out of the landfill, offering better service to our donors.”
Choices for Youth support
As a social enterprise, Again & Again has a great partner to help staff the store. Choices for Youth is on board, with their trainees able to gain work experience at Again & Again. That arrangement has worked out great so far, according to Tulk.
“We would never have been able to open our doors having to pay staff from the get-go,” she said.
One Choices for Youth trainee who spent time working at Again & Again prior to graduating from the program has since been hired as Again & Again’s first store supervisor.
Again & Again found a great space to set up shop on Hebron Way. There’s a roomy showroom for shoppers and a big storage area out back where items can be kept until they’re ready to be sold. They can clean and refurbish items on site (volunteers from Bell Aliant Pioneers also take some items and repair them for HAFB and Again & Again).
The building has a second level with office space and an area where HAFB volunteers gather to create arts and crafts that can then be sold as home decor items in the store. Tulk sees potential for this area to generate revenue as an event space for workshops and art classes.
“It is beyond my wildest dreams to have this space, but it works out perfectly for us, for what we’re trying to do,” Tulk said.
The provincial government contributed $85,000 towards the project. A grand opening event to celebrate Again & Again’s transition from a pilot project to a permanent endeavour is happening Saturday, April 29.