For struggling families, Michigan furniture bank helps set up home

Pontiac — Seanna Newbern, who cares for her 12-year-old brother and 8-year-old daughter, needed furniture to replace items damaged in a move.

The 28-year-old Pontiac resident recently turned to the Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan for beds for the children. Earlier this year, she also received other items including a kitchen table and chairs, end tables and three dressers. The cost: $75.

“It saved me a lot of money because I would have been coming out of thousands,” said Newbern, who stays home to care for her daughter, who is disabled. “It saved me a lot. It was very helpful. It’s a very good thing that they do for the low-income families.”

Newbern is among the 1,500 families annually referred to the Pontiac-based nonprofit that helps people in poverty, works with child protective services or those transitioning from homelessness.

The Furniture Bank said it needs donations from the community as it sees a 65% year-over-year increase in requests for furniture.

One of the reasons for the uptick is the end of the eviction moratorium, said Robert Boyle, executive director for the nonprofit.

“Those families have worked their way through the courts and they’re in hotels and they’re looking to get back into housing,” he said. “We’ve had flood victims, refugees … Social workers weren’t going into homes during the pandemic and they’re starting to do that now. The backlog of folks that have needed furniture is starting to hit.”

Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan executive director Robert Boyle, left, of Grosse Pointe Woods talks with warehouse manager Phil Bradberry of Pontiac at the Furniture Bank in Pontiac.

Last year, the nonprofit gave out 1,100 dressers. The showroom recently only had a handful of dressers that clients could select.

“We have a lot of dining chairs,” Boyle said as he walked through the showroom. “We’re really short on dining tables right now. We take gently used, useable mattresses and box springs … We’ll give out 2,000 beds a year, and last year about 800 went to kids.”