Volunteers help to furnish new lives
Program provides furniture, household items to low-income county residents
SCHENECTADY When he was helping out with a truck run for the Schenectady Home Furnishings Program one night in the early 1990s, Jack Bestgen learned a disturbing statistic: In Schenectady that evening, 127 people did not have beds.
When he returned to his Niskayuna home and shared the figure with his wife, Sally, it prompted them both to become heavily involved with the program, which provides good, used furniture — delivered and free — to Schenectady County residents in need.
The program began in 1968 under the umbrella of Church Women United, transitioned to become part of the Schenectady City Mission and eventually became its own nonprofit corporation. Its mission is recycling “good quality donated furniture and household furnishings, free of cost, to low income Schenectady County residents in need due to transition from emergency situations.”
In the early days, volunteers stored donations in their garages. As the program grew, storage moved into various locations throughout the city until the organization received a Community Development Block Grant in 1990 to purchase its warehouse at 10 N. Center St.
With a part-time administrator, Jamie Doriguzzi, and a staff of dedicated volunteers like the Bestgens, Schenectady Home Furnishings Program serves an average of 80 households a month. Volunteers use the program’s truck for pickup and deliveries of furniture, and the organization asks that donors bring household goods to the warehouse for processing. Sometimes volunteers park the truck in one location for a few hours to collect donations from an area.
Sally Bestgen is quick to point out all donations must be in good, usable condition.
“We understand, you may be in need, but you still have pride,” she said.
“If it’s something that you would give to your family, friend or neighbor, it’s OK to donate,” Doriguzzi said. If you wouldn’t want you aunt to have it, then don’t give it to HFP, she said.
Volunteers sort, match and label donations so that they are ready to be dispensed to clients. The program stores small household goods that are ready to be distributed in a room dubbed “Elsie’s Room,” in honor of a longtime volunteer, next to the program’s office at the First Methodist Church at 603 State St.. Shelves hold matching dish sets labeled by how many people they serve, sets of sheets labeled by size and other small household items clients can take with them after their appointments, when the program determines the kinds of items that will best serve them.
Clients of the program undergo a screening process from referring organizations, including churches and social service agencies, as well as by the program itself, before furniture and other household goods are delivered.
Parsons Family and Child Center is one agency that works with the program. Of the roughly 90 families it serves each month, about half have housing needs, said Laura Coakley, short-term services coordinator at Parsons. This is for various reasons, such as a traumatic event, family disaster, domestic violence, eviction or natural disaster. The program’s provision of furniture and other household goods removes one stressor from families so they can start to rebuild their lives.
“We’re helping our families create a home, and we couldn’t do it without Home Furnishings,” Coakley said. “Children need a home, and a home is just not a building. A home is what goes in it.”
Victoria Bradley of Schenectady, head of a seven-person household, benefitted from this program last summer when she had to move and leave all of her furniture behind. The program was able to provide beds for her family, even toddler beds, as well as a dining room table, dressers and other items.
“I came to this apartment with nothing,” she said. “If I didn’t have furniture, we’d have to be on the floor.”
The furniture has provided another benefit, too. In her previous apartment, Bradley had children eat in their rooms because they had no dining table.
“Now we have a dining room where we can actually sit down on Sundays or in the evenings to have dinner all together, not in separate rooms,” Bradley said.
Currently, the program’s biggest need is for beds.
“Almost everybody asks for a bed, and in the case of families with children, they want multiple beds,” said former board member Peg Miller of Niskayuna, who volunteers as a grant writer, warehouse sorter and newsletter editor.
Recently, the Home Furnishings Program started a new program, “Bucks for Beds,” where people can donate money designated to buy beds. The organization partners with local businesses to get the best prices on beds and futons so it can supply as many beds as possible.
The other great need is for able volunteers who can go on truck runs to pick up and deliver furniture.
“If we can’t do the truck runs, we’re dead in the water,” Miller said.
The program used to depend heavily on volunteers and donations from churches. With church populations on the decline, the program has been partnering with businesses, agencies, schools and other organizations.
“There’s just so much economic strife here in Schenectady, and all the agencies have to work so closely together,” Coakley said.
Items the program cannot use might go to the City Mission, and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York brings donated nonfood items to the program. Area businesses send groups of employees to volunteer, as well as providing office equipment.
In addition to volunteers, the program supports its mission with monetary donations from area churches and individuals, grants from businesses and foundations and fundraising activities. For example, the program periodically holds sales of donated items that are not appropriate for clients, such as antiques, collectibles, fondue pots, stemware and fine china. All proceeds go to fund the program, which runs on an annual budget of about $60,000.
For more information on the Schenectady Home Furnishings Program, call 346-2444 or visit www.schenectadyhomefurnishings.org.