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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Life Furniture Bank Brings Hope to the Underserved

By Laura A. Hobson

“God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called,” said Dana Saxton, executive director, New Life Furniture Bank.

The bank’s mission is simple – to get a child sleeping on the floor into a warm, safe bed; to restore dignity to families who have lost everything; and to make a house a home.

Do you know a family needing beds and furniture?  Look no further than the New Life Furniture Bank, located in Blue Ash.  It is the only nationally registered furniture bank serving Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Cameron and Ben Poole from Maineville are volunteers at NLFB.
Volunteers from Milford First United Methodist Church in 2006 began a program known as New Life Furniture Bank in collaboration with Interfaith Hospitality Network, one of the largest providers of emergency shelters for families experiencing homelessness.  NLFB helps families move into permanent, stable housing by delivering up to 19 items with gently used beds, furniture and housewares.

Holly Young from this church met with Teresa (last name omitted for confidential reasons), a domestic abuse victim who needed housing assistance.  “We need to do a furniture drive,” Young said. With three kids, Teresa needed the furniture.   

The first year, volunteers collected, delivered and set-up whole houses with furniture and housewares for six families. By 2016, NFLB turned nearly 600 vacant houses into homes for families and individuals overcoming homelessness, escaping severe poverty, fleeing domestic abuse or recovering from other devastating circumstances.  The homes consisted of 1,635 men, women and children and were furnished with 10,061 donated items.  More than half of the recipients  – 936 – were children.  As a result, 702 people now sleep on a mattress, and 479 families eat at a kitchen table, not on bare floors.

According to the US Census bureau, Cincinnati’s child poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation.  The city is consistently ranked in the top 15 poorest cities in the country with a poverty rate almost twice the national average.  NLFB partners with 20 social service agencies, which provide case management as well as referrals, and which also come from houses of worship, schools and organizations.  In addition to Interfaith Hospitality Network, partner agencies include Home Comforts and several Hyde Park churches to shelter homeless families and collect household items to provide when moving into stable housing.  American Red Cross helps with disaster planning.  

Kevin Finn, executive director, Strategies to End Homelessness, said, “At Strategies to End Homelessness, we oversee HUD funding that we use to help homeless families get back into their own housing. Unfortunately, this funding does not pay for furniture, so we were frequently moving families into apartments that didn’t have a single piece of furniture - no beds, no chairs, no table. 
“That’s where New Life Furniture Bank comes in. We partner with New Life to provide newly re-housed families with furniture so their new housing actually feels like home.”

Churches such as Hyde Park Community United Methodist also participate.  Member Sarah Putman said the church became involved through connections with its Summer Impact ministry sending youth throughout the city.  Each summer for over seven years, HPCUMC has served as a host site for youth groups from all over the Midwest that primarily come to Cincinnati and partner with city ministries that are making a difference. 

“New Life Furniture Bank has been one of our stable partnerships, welcoming middle school and high school students to come and learn about what they do, help sort and prep in the warehouse and go on deliveries to the families,” said Putnam.  

According to Putnam, “Summer Impact welcomes middle school and high school aged youth from all over the Midwest.  HPCUMC is beginning to branch out in other ways to continue to support NLFB and provide opportunities for our congregants to experience and participate in this ministry.” 

Putnam said Summer Impact youth leave their experience with NLFB with an increased awareness of some of the needs in the city, curiosity about whether something like this exists in their home city and a sense of accomplishment and connection at the end of their day’s work.

Also participating is Oakley mega-church Crossroads where member Matt Murphy talks about its being a referring partner and providing some financial support to NLFB. “When someone who is a part of Crossroads is in a relationship with someone in need of help from a furniture bank, they contact us, and we refer them to New Life Furniture Bank,” said Murphy.

“We used to run our own furniture bank. We saw New Life Furniture Bank was helping ten times the number of families than we were, and we thought we would be smart to stop running our own and, instead, support them.

“We have volunteers who screen any referral requests that come in through Crossroads, as well as volunteers who work at the New Life Furniture Bank facility doing things like helping build furniture, sorting donations and assisting with deliveries.  We, as a church, get to financially and physically partner in making this city a better place,” said Murphy.

Saxton gave this writer a tour of the Community Engagement Center in Blue Ash where volunteers and staff sort, pack, build, repair and clean furniture.  The furniture bank is green.   In 2016, NLFB delivered over 300 tons of furniture that otherwise may have ended up in landfills.  She said the annual budget for the agency is $416,000 and operates in the black.  

Saxton grew up in Dayton, but received a community arts degree from Mount St. Joseph University.  Her previous position was Lighthouse Youth Services Community Engagement and Volunteer Director.   She was asked to consider the executive director position at New Life Furniture Bank and stay engaged with homeless issues.  

She joined NLFB in August 1, 2016 with six full-time and eight part-time members.  Over 500 volunteers help sort the donations, assemble boxes and build furniture.  The program works like a food bank; it gives – it doesn’t sell.  Places such as Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul are resale facilities.  

New Life Furniture Bank, a faith-based nonprofit organization, has a furniture warehouse on 2415 Beekman St. in Fairmont.  Saxton said the biggest challenge is capacity building.  “This keeps me up at night,” she said.  “We don’t have enough supplies to serve all who need them.”  

She cites the need for more furniture and to increase the community awareness.  As a result, Saxton plans on a development associate, more social media presence and community engagement activities.  These include building at least five new strategic relationships with corporations, organizations and/or faith communities each year resulting in financial sponsorship and in-kind donations.

“We have to fund our mission,” Saxton said.  NLFB needs funding for household and furniture supplies.  The bank looks for beds, dressers, nightstands, couches, love seats, chairs, coffee/end tables, lamps and kitchen tables.

“We need more trucks,” Saxton said. Because they cost between $25,000 - $30,000, NLFB sponsored a campaign to raise money to purchase a truck from one of their partners, such as Enterprise.

NLFB’s strategic plan for 2016-2019 carries the goal to expand programming.  For example, the increase in deliveries for 2018 is 726, or a 16% increase.  In addition, it adds/expands revenue generating services such as disposal fees, downsizing and/or resale, auction services.  Plans also are to expand the furniture build, repair and repurpose program to increase usability of donated furniture by 100 pieces in three years.  

In Operations Analysis and Process Improvement, the plan is to improve operational processes and procedures to maximize efficiency and allow for significant program expansion over the next three years.  In addition, the plan is to develop and implement Executive Board and staff recruitment, retention, succession and administration policies/procedures for agency and program expansion.  

According to NLFB, a person working a minimum wage job must work 72 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent and have it still be considered affordable by the government.  

Donations are tax deductible.  NLFB will pick up items free of charge.  For more information, visit the website at or call 513-313-0530.

New Life Furniture Bank – Quarter 3, 2017 Statistics

Clients Served:
442 Families
209 Individuals
651 Households
541 Single
Annual Household Income:
305 Less than $6,000
191 $6,000 - $1,119
Race/Ethnic Origin:
460 African-American
155 Caucasian
24 Hispanic
14 Other
Reason for Assistance:
214 Previously Homeless
84 Eviction
61 Relocation
56 Physical Disease/Disability
50 Loss of Job/Employment
48 Victim of Domestic Violence
47 Mental Disability
XX Other

Examples of Referring/Partner Agencies:
84 Bethany House
68 Lighthouse Youth Services
65Interfaith Hospitality Network
50 Freestore Foodbank

Examples of Congregations/Schools:
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Clough United Methodist Church, Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, Guardian Angels/St. Vincent de Paul, Princeton Pike Church of God, St. Paul Lutheran Church

Furniture Collection & Distribution: Delivered -
804 Mattresses
512 Dressers/Chests
471 Nightstands
588 Couches/Loveseats
596 LR Chairs
371 Coffee Tables
447 End Tables
940 Lamps
520 Kitchen Tables
1,718 Kitchen Chairs
XXX Other

Total Number of Pieces Delivered:  7,163

Total Number of Pieces Picked Up:  942

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