published Monday, April 11th, 2011

Local furniture bank celebrates first anniversary

Danny Ayala, left,  and operations manager Lee Barton of the Furniture Bank load a donation into a truck. The organization provides home furnishings for the needy and for people who are escaping homelessness.
Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Danny Ayala, left, and operations manager Lee Barton of the Furniture Bank load a donation into a truck. The organization provides home furnishings for the needy and for people who are escaping homelessness. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Before he went to the Chattanooga Furniture Bank, Frank Izquierdo’s one-bedroom trailer looked bland and boring.

“It wasn’t bad, just empty,” he said. “Now it looks more lived in, more like home.”

If families can find a house, the Chattanooga Furniture Bank can help them furnish it, officials said.

“It’s a step toward permanence,” said Lee Barton, Chattanooga Furniture Bank operations manager.

Barton, Salvation Army and the United Way recently celebrated the furniture bank’s first anniversary.

The goal was to serve about 100 families in its first year, but it actually helped 328 families, according to a United Way of Greater Chattanooga news release.

Some clients were people whose homes were destroyed by fire or families moving into their first home, Barton said.

Local researchers noted in the city’s Blueprint to End Homelessness that the city did not have a furniture bank. The blueprint stated that having furniture available would help some people find permanent housing.

“It gives people a sense of dignity, and their self-worth is restored,” said Gordon Hall, the Salvation Army’s director of grants and communications.

Because clients get only one trip to the furniture bank, Barton makes sure the warehouse is fully stocked before families are admitted.

The building’s corners are filled with mattresses stacked to the ceiling. Its walls are lined with display shelves, bed frames, sofas, televisions, microwaves, paintings and decorative figurines.

But furniture is not just handed out to anyone who asks, said Jamie Bergman, United Way’s vice president of allocations.

Case managers from agencies such as the AIM Center, Homeless Health Care Center and the Salvation Army screen clients to make sure they need furniture, then refer them to the furniture bank, said Bergman. The clients make appointments to come in and select furniture, she said.

Izquierdo went to the furniture bank in February after living in a court-ordered group home for 11 months and received furniture for his one-bedroom trailer home.

“It made me feel good, more independent, more capable,” Izquierdo said.

He said furniture bank staff helped him load furniture into his car and gave him items such as a much-appreciated dinning room table that he now uses.

“They surprised me,” he said. “They gave me things I didn’t even know that I needed.”

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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