CINCINNATI -- Volunteers carry a bed up to a little girl’s room and ask her where she wants the bed positioned. She tells them this is the first bed she has owned. She is 9 years old.
This young Cincinnatian is just one of the 752 children, 672 adults and countless volunteers whose lives New Life Furniture Bank changed last year.
Holly Young founded the Blue Ash nonprofit 10 years ago. It is the only furniture bank in Cincinnati, and one of three in Ohio, according to Executive Director Dana Saxton.
In 2015, New Life donated, delivered and set up 8,488 pieces of furniture to residents in need. Most are escaping devastating life circumstances such as homelessness, domestic abuse, drug addiction, mental illness or aging out of the foster system. New Life’s mission is to provide a starter set of used furniture for an entire house or apartment, a luxury that many people cannot afford when trying to get back on their feet.
“Low-income families who live in ‘survival mode’ such as those who are living in impoverished conditions or were homeless do not have the financial or physical resources to locate, buy and transport basic household furniture,” Saxton said. “If they must choose between buying food to eat today or buying a mattress, they will eat and sleep on bare floors.”
The organization delivers furniture to 70 ZIP codes across Greater Cincinnati, including all of Clermont and Hamilton counties, as well as parts of Butler, Warren, Campbell, Kenton and Boone counties.
The statistics Saxton cites are enough to make people want to donate that dresser collecting dust in their basements. In fact, 85 percent of clients earn less than $12,000 annually. Half of the clients are children. Most are women and girls. And 35 percent of the families are led by a single mother.
But one of the most encouraging statistics is the profound impact a house full of furniture can make for a family’s road to self-sufficiency and independence.
“We learned that about 85 percent of our clients who received furniture and other basic household items provided by New Life Furniture had remained in their home for a year or more,” Saxton said.
She points to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Society for Sleep Medicine showing children who sleep and eat on bare floors also are less likely to do well in school. Adults are less likely to pursue life-advancing activities such as jobs and education.
New Life volunteers will drive to a donor’s house and pick up the furniture for free, although they ask for an optional $25 gas donation. Donors also can drop off mattresses, dressers, tables, chairs, sofas, lamps, pots and pans, dishes, silverware, toasters, coffee makers, and other items to the facility.
Each client also receives a gift basket with household essentials such as dish soap, cleaning supplies and toiletries. Donors can rest assured that the clients receiving furniture have a genuine need, as all recipients must be referred by a social worker, business, school or place of worship.
From there, volunteers, including area high school students, organize, choose, load, deliver and set up the furniture in the client’s house. Saxton said this is a mutually beneficial activity, as many students have never even been to some parts of town where the furniture is delivered or seen the difficult circumstances some Cincinnatians endure.
Charlie McCurry, of Liberty Township, started volunteering at New Life three years ago when his West Chester church, Four Corners, got involved. A former polymer chemist and self-proclaimed “ultimate of nerds,” McCurry builds kitchen tables for donation at New Life’s workshop.
“It’s the centerpiece of a new apartment with no furniture,” he said. “You don’t have a house without a kitchen table.”
Periodically, volunteers create these tables from kits that cost only about $13, Saxton said. New Life partners with the Cincinnati Woodworkers Association to create kits with laminated instructions.
GE engineers will volunteer and have “races” to see who can make the tables faster, although volunteers definitely don’t have to be engineers to participate.
“I firmly believe in putting my hands and feet to my faith,” McCurry said. He also has started to teach incoming volunteers the basics at New Life.
Saxton said the volunteers and donations are restoring dignity for people in their time of need.
“Clients feel like they have a home they are proud of and can concentrate on other things than having their child sleeping on the floor,” she said. “It takes a village, and we need to surround these folks.”
Aside from volunteering, the public can help New Life by fulfilling the ongoing dire need for clean mattresses. The organization will pick up any mattress other than king-sized ones at no charge, which can also be a relief for someone trying to get rid of a mattress.
New Life is located at 11431 Williamson Road in Blue Ash and delivers and picks up donations Monday through Saturday.