Photo: Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless’ Furniture Bank marked a major milestone recently, celebrating 30 years of providing free furniture to people transitioning out of homelessness or living in poverty. The Furniture Bank was created in 1985 in the city of Lynn, the first of its kind in the state, and one of the first in the country.
The concept is simple; individuals, colleges, hotels and companies around the greater Boston area donate gently used furniture and household goods to the Furniture Bank. People in need are then referred through a coalition member agency, and an appointment is scheduled for them to come to the Furniture Bank and select whatever they need, free of charge.
“Small and simple concrete material things really make a difference in stabilizing people’s lives,” said Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. “Not having a bed means you’re not going to feel ready and refreshed to go to school, or not having a place to gather around like a kitchen table—these are really fundamental things that most people have and take for granted, but they’re really expensive pieces that are part of building your life again.”
The Furniture Bank serves about 1,500 to 1,800 households each year and collects $3.5 million dollars worth of sofas, bed frames, tables, dishes and many other items annually, according to its website. There are now 15 to 20 similar furniture banks all over Massachusetts, according to Frost.
The increased number of outlets state-wide means that the high demand for household goods is more evenly shouldered between them, Frost said. It’s now easier for people in need to access furniture closer to their own communities, and there is a much wider variety of goods available to them, she added.
“Because of all the new banks opening, the numbers [of people we serve] are down,” said Frost. “But now families have a plethora of stuff to choose from. When we were the only ones, often times there wouldn’t be a lot to choose from by the end of the day.”
Frost said that the functioning of the Furniture Bank has remained largely the same since it opened, although they no longer accept individual mattresses due to fear of bedbugs. “It is the biggest nightmare of these furniture banks to bring in bedbugs because they’d effectively have to shut down,” she said.
The Furniture Bank has also expanded its reach to assist vulnerable elderly people who may not be able to afford a new bed or a new chair. Frost also pointed out that the Furniture Bank is proud to contribute to environmental recycling efforts. “If you’re donating your old sofa to us, it’s not ending up in a landfill,” she said. “So the re-purposing of something is important both to families in need and to the environment.”
Reenat Sinay is a Boston-based freelance journalist and a part-time correspondent for the Boston Globe.