Give back by giving your old furniture a new home

The Estelle family received beds and furniture from the Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan last summer.

Photo provided by the Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan

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METRO DETROIT — As people redecorate their homes this spring with new furniture, families in need are hoping those people will consider donating their old furniture instead of throwing it away.

“The smallest thing matters,” said Davenaldiana Jones, of Warren, a mother of three who recently received furnishings from the Pontiac-based nonprofit Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan. “They just never know what somebody’s situation is. No item is too small. … It makes a person’s home a home.”

Jones said she’s grateful to the donors who have enabled her to create a real home for her 8-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, and she said she’s already seen a positive difference in her children’s psychological and physical health since they’ve had beds to sleep in, a couch to sit on and a kitchen table where they can eat and do their homework, rather than crouching uncomfortably on the floor.

“I’ve suffered chronic homelessness since I aged out of the foster system,” Jones said. “This is one of the first places I’ve ever been able to call home. I see a difference in my kids, in their moves, since they got their beds. … I’ve always done what I could for them, but we’ve never really had a home to furnish. It’s really amazing. Once we were able to get the furniture, they started relaxing more.”

It’s families like the Joneses that the Furniture Bank aids each day. Furniture Bank Executive Director Robert Boyle, of Grosse Pointe Woods, said the Furniture Bank gets referrals from social service agencies for families needing furniture — in some cases, because they’re moving from a homeless shelter to an apartment or home. Multiple factors, including the end-of-eviction moratoriums last year and the rising cost of housing, have caused the need to spike this spring, he said.

At press time, Boyle said the Furniture Bank’s referrals were up by about 64% from last year, and it had roughly 180 families waiting for furniture. He said it recently purchased a third truck, which should help it conduct more furniture pickups and deliveries, but demand remains higher than normal.

“There’s just so much more need right now,” Boyle said. “We are doing everything we can to get furniture to the people who need it.”

The Furniture Bank will collect essential items in good condition from homes across metro Detroit at no charge if these items can be placed in a garage or on a porch, or they will charge a flat fee of $50 to collect any number of essentials from inside the home. Essential items include mattresses, box springs, dressers, end tables, nightstands, coffee tables, sofas or love seats (excluding reclining sofas and sofa beds), dining or kitchen tables (excluding glass or heavy marble), dining or kitchen chairs (in sets of at least two), and living room chairs. The Furniture Bank will also collect as essentials up to five bags or boxes of smaller housewares, such as towels, pots, pans, silverware, lamps, bedding and other basics; it cannot accept clothing.

For essential items that are structurally damaged, stained, torn, badly worn or damaged by pets, they will haul these items away for $75 per item, whether it’s inside or outside the home.

For fees ranging from $75 to $100 per item, the Furniture Bank will also pick up nonessential items from inside or outside of homes, including desks, bookshelves, armoires, china cabinets, buffets, sofa beds, reclining sofas, entertainment centers and TV stands. Proceeds from fees support the work of the Furniture Bank and enable them to hire professional movers to safely remove furniture.

Boyle said studies are now showing what has been largely anecdotal, to date: Having a furnished home and a bed to sleep in results in better health, better quality of sleep, and fewer aches and pains.

“It’s really important that kids are getting a healthy night’s sleep in a bed and have a decent quality of life,” Boyle said. He said the Furniture Bank gives each child a new set of bedding to go with their beds.

People throw away perfectly good furniture every day — sometimes because they don’t realize nonprofits like the Furniture Bank do pickups. Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak said she sees it in her community regularly. What taxpayers might not realize is that this hurts their communities financially, even when communities charge disposal fees.

“There’s not just the cost of picking it up — there’s the cost of disposal,” said Tomkowiak, noting that refuse disposal costs are based on tonnage. “And that just keeps going up.”

There’s the environmental toll, as well, when furniture ends up in landfills.

In 2021, the Furniture Bank served almost 6,200 individuals — more than half of them children — and collected and distributed 245,000 cubic feet, or 450 tons, of furniture. That’s enough to fill up downtown Detroit’s 47-story Penobscot Building.

“The environmental costs are huge,” Tomkowiak said. “The financial costs (to municipalities) are significant. And helping people who need it is important.”

The help goes beyond the recipient family. Jones, for example, now hopes to aid other foster children.

“I want to thank everyone who’s donated to the Furniture Bank,” Jones said. “This little bit of hope that they give — they don’t know what it might spark in someone.”

For more information or to donate or arrange a pickup, visit www.furniture-bank.org or call (248) 332-1300.

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