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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

At Furniture Bank, Handed Down Furniture Offers a Hand Up

Just a few months ago Kat Williams was living with her three children, ages one, five and 13, in her car. When I met her last week, she was picking furniture for a three-bedroom apartment that was “way more than I expected,” she said.


Williams and I met at a furniture and clothing bank in Central Florida called The Mustard Seed. Now in its 35th year of helping those who’ve suffered disaster or personal tragedy furnish their homes, the organization exists because people who have too much thoughtfully give it away, people like Linda Manzonelli, of Winter Park, Fla.


In response to one of my recent decluttering columns (Get Richer by Living with Less), Manzonelli wrote me to say, “Having too much is not everyone’s reality. We need to remember that there are those who have not much to decorate or clutter their homes with.” 

Point taken.


Though comfortable and well situated today, Manzonelli wasn’t always. Fifty years ago, as a newly divorced young mother she had only her bedroom furniture, and a kitchen table and chairs, “so my child and I would have a place to eat and I a place to study since I had gone back to college.” It would be years before they got a hand-me-down sofa. “Back then, there were no furniture banks,” she said.


“When you have children, making a house or apartment into a home is especially important for everyone’s emotional wellbeing,” she added. “That is why I will support this organization as long as it exists.” She urged me to visit the center.


I loaded my car with boxes of decorative accessories and household goods that I was clearing out — framed mirrors, lamps, placemats, a filing cabinet, clothes— and drove to the center.


There, Mehek Mirchandani, development and events manager for the nonprofit, showed me around the 20,000 square-foot warehouse, chock full of sofas, chairs, tables, and an aisle full of mattresses. Off the main storage area were rooms dedicated to dishes and kitchen appliances, and another for bedding and linens.


Williams was one of seven clients who would come through the warehouse that day. Individuals, single parents, and families come through referrals from over 100 agencies throughout the region, from homeless networks to hospitals. Along with an agency referral, clients also need to have secured housing “with keys in hand,” Mirchandani said. Clients pay a $200 fee plus $150 if they need the furniture delivered. “We’re a hand-up not a hand-out.”


Two years ago, after a series of setbacks, Williams and her children had to move in with her mother. When that relationship turned, they became homeless. A community agency found the family temporary housing in churches while she “worked on getting my stability back,” said Williams, age 32, who works as a secretary at a hospital. Then she qualified for an apartment.


As she walked the furniture aisles, I asked what look she was going for. She lit up: “Bohemian,” she said. “I love color. I want a house full of color.”


Thanks to a lot of thoughtful donors who let go of what they didn’t need, she’s about to get just that.


While The Mustard Seed serves Central Florida, Kathy Baldwin, the organization’s executive director, says similar furniture banks are flourishing all over the country thanks to greater awareness. You can find a furniture bank in your area by going to: Meanwhile, here are some ways you, too, can clean house and make a difference:

·      Ditch the storage unit. People, people, people! The United States has 53,000 storage facilities. That’s more than all the McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Subway stores combined.  They’re 90 percent full. Rather than spend hundreds of dollars a month storing furniture you don’t need, help a struggling family furnish a home and save the money.

·      No mattress should go to waste. Because mattresses can have an ick factor, many people don’t think of recycling used ones. However, no mattress should end up in the landfill. At The Mustard Seed, mattresses still in good condition get sanitized, and made available to clients. Those in poor shape get broken down and their components sold to recyclers, creating revenue for the organization. Mattress foam and filler gets chipped and mulched and turned into carpet padding. Mattress springs get sold as scrap metal. Last year the organization kept more than 7,000 mattresses out of the landfill, Baldwin said.

·      See your belongings through new eyes. As you cull through drawers and cupboards, attics and basements, put your items in context. Ask how many (fill in the blank: pairs of candlesticks, sets of sheets, wicker baskets) do you need? Keep your top three, and let others benefit from the rest. According to Mirchandani, the top five most needed items are twin mattresses, cutlery, pots and pans, fitted sheets of all sizes, and coffeemakers. Upholstered furniture must be in good condition with no rips, stains, or odors.

·      Don’t let transportation stop you. For items too big to stick in your car, most donation centers will pick items up from your home at no charge.

·      Consider the upside. Besides helping those like Williams make homes for their families, letting go means you have less stuff weighing you down, and less to store, clean, and deal with. If you get a donation receipt, you can list the items you donated as a tax deduction. ( can help calculate fair value.)


CAPTION: Giving Furniture and Families a Second Chance — Kat Williams, a single mom of three, selects furnishings for her family’s new apartments at The Mustard Seed, an Orlando furniture bank. Photos courtesy of Marni Jameson


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1 Comment

Jun 03

This is a wonderful article - for those of us who have acquired too much over our lives, it’s a wonderful way to downsize/declutter & give back at the same time!! I give to the Habitat Restore in our area as there is no furniture bank nearby.

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