Kyra Simone is a NOTL-born nature lover with a master's degree in biology. In her spare time, she advocates for sustainable change, picks up garbage, makes recycled jewelry, and transforms furniture bound for the landfill.
Special to The Lake Report
The Niagara Furniture Bank gives back to both the community and the environment by the truckload. In addition to its charitable activities, the hub at 53 Ontario St. in St. Catharines is always working to reduce waste and reimagine practices that discard usable items.
HOW IT WORKS: The Niagara Furniture Bank repurposes gently used items to disadvantaged individuals and aims to make shelters into homes.
Where our Newark Neighbours gladly takes clothing and non-perishables, the furniture bank can accept a variety of additional items. This includes furniture, mattresses, carpets, bedding, towels and even large appliances.
At its warehouse, minor repairs are made to extend the life of previously loved items. To date, the furniture bank has diverted over 500,000 pounds from landfill!
All donations receive a “fair market value” tax receipt and rates for furniture are fixed. For example, couches are valued at $300 and sidetables are $70.
Executive director Matt Cuthbert says the furniture bank is always in search of small household essentials such as toasters, kettles, microwaves and crock pots. Clients getting back on their feet also consistently need single beds, dressers, tables and chairs.
The retail store, open Tuesday and Thursday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), generates operational funds by selling unique items that cannot be used by furniture bank clients.
BEYOND FURNITURE: The furniture bank serves as a dropoff centre for the “Toolbox” program. Once bath products and warm winter gear are collected, care boxes are delivered to those living in poverty.
The furniture bank also has a unique partnership with bed-in-a-box companies. Their “sleep guarantee” allows customers to return mattresses, but, similar to Amazon, returned items are usually taken straight to the dump.
The furniture bank intercepts and rehomes barely used mattresses. It also works with wholesalers to acquire skids of returned or scratch-and-dent items that otherwise end up in landfills.
When COVID-19 initially forced restaurants to close, the furniture bank distributed more than 10,000 pounds of fresh food from closed kitchens to 13 shelters in a single day. Throughout the quarantine, the organization has developed new relationships with local growers to distribute excess produce to Niagara's hungry.
Moving and waste removal companies also work with the furniture bank: drivers keep an eye out for useable materials and put them aside to be rehomed.
TAKE A (MENTAL) LOAD OFF: Donations to the Niagara Furniture Bank are sure to have an emotional benefit.
After a loved one dies, the furniture bank will do complete estate pickups. This involves cleaning out the entire house and donating usable items, which can be a great comfort during the grieving process.
Donated items has an impact far beyond equipping clients in need. A study with Social Impact Squared showed that client mental health improved after receiving items, and better sleep and day-to-day habits improved their success at school or work.
Cuthbert is extremely proud to say that 30 per cent of his agency's clients have transitioned from a shelter into stable homes. In the near future, the furniture bank intends to open a new location in Hamilton, and perhaps London.
Truly, the furniture bank's community and environmental benefits can be measured in tons.