Furniture Sharehouse looks to grow with need

By KATIE HOOS

For the Furniture Sharehouse, the holiday season is not just a time to give back, it’s a time to give even more than they do the rest of the year.

Students from Mamaroneck High School load a donated desk onto a truck during the March 2013 Furniture Sharehouse furniture drive

Students from Mamaroneck High School load a donated desk onto a truck during the March 2013 Furniture Sharehouse furniture drive

Fueled solely by donations and grants, the Sharehouse, which gives free furniture to individuals and families in need throughout Westchester County, has rasied enough money to furnish more than 25 homes this holiday season.

Since opening in 2007, the Furniture Sharehouse has distributed more than 36,548 pieces of furniture to 2,378 households with a value of nearly $2.3 million.

Founded by Larchmont resident Kate Bialo and The Junior League of Westchester on the Soundan all-female organization promoting volunteerism throughout the Sound Shorethe Furniture Sharehouse is a non-profit corporation that aims to improve the quality of life for the community’s financially disadvantaged.

Bialo, also former president and community grants coordinator for the league, said many social workers and agencies with whom she has worked would receive calls from people looking to donate furniture, but had to turn them down due to a lack of space. Frustrated by the amount of furniture being thrown away despite the overwhelming need for it, Bialo decided to collect furniture on her own to give to the less fortunate.

Families in need can choose from sofas, armchairs, dressers, desks and other basic home furnishings for their homes.

Families in need can choose from sofas, armchairs, dressers, desks and other basic home furnishings for their homes.

The recipient of a grant through Westchester County, the sharehouse was able to obtain 6,500 square feet of warehouse space behind the Westchester County Airport in Harrison and officially opened its doors in April 2007.

Currently, it is the only furniture bank in the tri-state area.

Clients of the sharehouse include victims of domestic violence, families who have lost their homes to fire, those moving out of a homeless shelter or foster care and families struggling below the poverty line.

The Furniture Sharehouse furnishes around 450 homes per year yet, according to Bialo, there is still has a waiting list of at least six weeks.

“These are people who are sleeping on the floors of their homes,” she said. “We want to give them a dignified experience [at the Furniture Sharehouse] and the ability to start a comfortable life at home.”

Mamaroneck High School students from the Furniture Sharehouse Service Club help collect furniture for the sharehouse at the high school’s March furniture drive. Photos/Kate Bialo

Mamaroneck High School students from the Furniture Sharehouse Service Club help collect furniture for the sharehouse at the high school’s March furniture drive. Photos/Kate Bialo

According to the New York State Department of Health, as of the 2010 census, 10 percent of Westchester residents are living below the national poverty line. The current United States poverty threshold is set at an annual income of $23,050 for a family of four.

The sharehouse gives furniture to the needy only through a trusted referral process. Working with several agencies, such as the Westchester County Department of Social Services, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison and Family Services of Westchester, the sharehouse and the client’s caseworker, who verifies the client is in need through a home visit, arrange a date to visit the warehouse to select furniture together.

When the client arrives at the warehouse with their caseworker, they are assigned a shopping assistant to help with their selections. The clients can then take the furniture home themselves or arrange for delivery services.

“It’s an extremely gratifying experience for all of us and the volunteers who come here year round,” Bialo said. “We have an amazing group of volunteers who love what they do.”

Hope’s Door, a Pleasantville-based organization that aids victims of domestic violence, is another agency that works directly with the Furniture Sharehouse.

Dianne DeFilippis, director of administration at Hope’s Door, said clients who come out of the Hope’s Door shelter often have nothing to furnish their new home with, so they are referred to the Furniture Sharehouse.

They’ve been a great help, very responsive and useful to our clients,” she said. “The Furniture Sharehouse is the first facility that we reach out to specifically for furniture.”

DeFilippis said three clients from Hope’s Door received furniture through the sharehouse this year.

Without the generosity of the community, the Furniture Sharehouse wouldn’t be able to stock its facility with beds, tables, mirrors, dressers, sofas, armchairs and other items that fill a home. The sharehouse has collected and recycled more than 300 tons of furniture since its inception and accepts donations of moderately-sized, basic home furnishings that are in good condition. Bialo said monetary donations are also accepted, and help pay the warehouse rent, delivery costs and other expenses.

Aiming to increase its collection, the sharehouse recently began a recycling initiative in which it placed donation bins in the White Plains, Tuckahoe, Rye and Mamaroneck recycling yards. There, residents can drop-off smaller items in the closed bins and someone from the sharehouse will collect them.

The sharehouse also collects furniture from drives hosted by local organizations. On Sunday, Nov. 10, Archbishop Stepinac High School and Our Lady of Sorrows Church in White Plains hosted a drive in the high school’s parking lot in which they gathered a half truck’s worth of items.

And the fifth annual drive at Mamaroneck High School, hosted by the school’s Furniture Sharehouse Service Club, will take place on March 15, 2014. Bialo said events such as these generate awareness about furniture recycling and the importance it plays in the lives of those in need.

The year-round work of the Furniture Sharehouse, its volunteers and Bialo does not go unnoticed in the community.

In February, the sharehouse won the Community TechKnowledge, Inc. Founda-tion’s 2013 Heart and Soul award and received a $10,000 grant.

Community TechKnowledge, is a Texas-based software company whose foundation honors one non-profit organization each year.

Last year, Bialo was a nominee for the 2012 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth, an annual program that awards female volunteers for their work within their communities. She was the recipient of a $10,000 donation from L’Oreal Paris.

This May, Bialo was recognized, by state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, as the 2013 New York State Senate Woman of Distinction for her tireless work in Westchester.

“ What [Bialo] did was that she built something from an idea,” Latimer said. “It started with an idea and she built it into a thriving program. I think, over time, we’ll see examples of people who have been successful and can relate it back to the Furniture Sharehouse.”

Contact: katie@hometwn.com