Furniture Bank: A Ministry of Mercy
From the outside, Furniture Bank looks like one of many warehouses located in South Etobicoke. But upon entering, visitors find themselves in a brightly lit waiting area of comfortable chairs with toys and a play table for children. As they move further through the building, visitors soon discover a warehouse filled with furnishings, decor, chairs and more.
Sister Anne Schenck CSJ, who founded Furniture Bank in 1998, describes providing furniture as an act of mercy. "Mercy is about feeling compassion for others," says Sister Anne. "At Furniture Bank, we really empathize with those who have no furniture for their family — and give them tables for meals, sofas for relaxing, or beds for sleeping — all of which changes an empty apartment into a home."
In 2015, Furniture Bank welcomed over 7,500 clients and provided people in need with gently used furniture for their homes. Clients are referred to Furniture Bank by over 86 different agencies. "We don't know our clients' pasts," says Sister Anne. "Some were well to do, some fell on hard times, some have always struggled. But wherever they've come from, we welcome them here and treat them with respect."
A Collection of Choice
During a guided tour, Sister Anne and Keely Morandin, Development Associate, lead visitors through an enormous warehouse of sofas, cabinets, tables, mattresses, televisions, chairs, shelves and more. When clients visit, they walk through the warehouse guided by friendly volunteers who mark down the items clients select. Their selections are delivered by Furniture Bank's fleet of eight trucks at a nominal cost, which is subsidized by the organization.
"Other agencies take a cookie-cutter approach where they select items for the client," says Keely. "We don't do that; we make sure clients choose the pieces they want." It's something Sister Anne wanted for clients from the beginning. "They're creating a home," says Sister Anne, "and when we give them a choice in the furniture that goes into that home, we're restoring their dignity."
The Gift of Mercy
Sister Anne quotes Shakespeare who wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “The quality of mercy is not strained... It blesseth him that gives and him that takes... It is an attribute to God himself.”
Donors are often grateful for the chance to offer mercy. "One donor, whose mother had recently died, explained that her mom would be delighted to know that her treasured furniture would be appreciated, cared for, and used to make new memories," explains Sister Anne.
Near the back end of the warehouse is a workshop where incoming furniture is touched up and repaired. "We make sure the furniture we give our clients is something we'd feel happy giving to our own friends and family," Keely explains.
In addition to Furniture Bank's care for its clients, there is also a practical and analytical side to the charity. "It's expensive to do what we do," says Keely, describing rent, salaries for staff, costs for drivers and trucks, etc. To maintain these functions, it became necessary to charge the donors a fee for pick-up — about the same cost as a junk removal service rate.
The Best Option
Everyone at Furniture Bank has hopes of making this charity synonymous with furniture removal, except in this case, the furniture is redistributed to people in need — a more conscientious and environmentally friendly route than sending items to a landfill.
The tour ends with Sister Anne and Keely displaying one of Furniture Bank's new trucks which illustrate information about contacting the charity. "I've seen families sleeping on floors in their apartments," says Sister Anne. "I think part of mercy is saying this shouldn't happen and doing something to help."