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Photo by grevillea on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Helping with Furniture wins Ottawa Social Impact Award (Community Initiative category)

By Andrew Monro on November 18, 2016


Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 71 Bank Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.

On Thursday, the inaugural Ottawa Social Impact Awards were given to two Ottawa organizations that “are making a positive social impact through innovative, collaborative, and scalable initiatives and enterprises”.

The two winners were SuraiTea (social enterprise category), and Helping with Furniture (Community-based Initiative category).

I spoke with Nathalie Maione, president of Helping with Furniture (HWF) to talk to her about the initiative.

By day, Nathalie is a mild-mannered Early Childhood Educator, but every Wednesday night for the past 11 years (“I’ve never missed a single night”), she, along over 100 other volunteers that have helped when they can, go to work for almost 6 hours, getting furniture and other household items to families in need throughout Ottawa.

The premise of Helping With Furniture, a registered charity, is brilliantly simple. They take donated and discarded furniture and other items, including tables, chairs, linens, lamps, mirrors, chests of drawers, and all manner of other items, and deliver them to the homes of refugees, new immigrants, and low-income families in the Ottawa area, who otherwise lack the money or ability to get such furnishings.

When I asked her about how she got started with HWF, she talked about how she had originally joined an outreach group through her church, which delivered food and other small items to needy families in Ottawa, while once in a whole they would undertake the work to deliver larger pieces of furniture for refugees coming to the city.

“I started regularly taking the seats out of my van and loading it with donated furniture. I remember the first apartment I ever delivered to – it was stark, there was no furniture at all, no tables, chairs or even beds.”

She began to see that his was similar situation for many refugee families.

“The worst part is that so much good furniture ends up in the landfills. It’s so wasteful, and so bad for the environment.”

What makes Helping With Furniture incredible though, is the collaboration and generosity of the Ottawa community. Local Businesses and organizations have helped build HWF into what it is today.

“We found companies that are passionate about helping others.” The shipping company, Penske commits one of their large moving trucks, each Wednesday night, to help moving large furniture, which the volunteers have christened “The Yellow Canary.”

The Dragonboat Foundation gave HWF a seed grant of $50 000, which allowed them to rent a small 2,000 sq ft. warehouse. Obasan, a local mattress maker, now commits part of its production cycle to making new mattresses and donating them to HWF so refugees have beds to sleep on. The storage company PODS helps with storage, shipping and moving donated items. A squad of bike mechanics donate their time each month restoring and donating bikes, so that those without cars, and little knowledge of how to use Ottawa’s transit system, can get around. Home Hardware gave them a grant, allowing them to put together 55 toolboxes to help people assemble and repair their new furniture. The Ottawa Police Foundation has also gotten involved, with part of their membership doing their community outreach with HWF, helping them better understand the realities of low-income families and relating to people that have little understanding of Canadian laws, and may not speak English or French.

“We are lifting people out of poverty by helping them meet their basic household needs,” said Nathalie. She says that one of the most rewarding things about Helping With Furniture’s work is seeing the people they help gain the independence to support them and help their families thrive in this city. They always try to make their interactions personal, and try to, as much as possible, tailor their furniture deliveries to specific families’ needs.

There is still a lot of work to be done. There are over 130 families currently waiting for furniture, and HWF’s warehouse is filled to capacity. They hope to be able find funding to get an 8,000 sq. ft. warehouse with a loading dock and racking to meet their needs, and to lease an additional truck from Penske.

They are looking into opportunities for crowd-funding and corporate sponsorship, and would love to talk to anyone that is interested in supporting their cause in whatever capacity they can.

If you’re interested in learning more about Helping With Furniture, you can visit their website, or find them on Facebook or Twitter.