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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

'Take a seat, bank tells its clients

Sometimes, a roof isn t enough.

Just ask the battered woman setting out on her own from a domestic violence shelter, or the man starting over again after exhausting his stay at a homeless shelter, or the unemployed teen mom trying to make it on her own.

Then, there are always the uninsured families whose houses burn down.

The Red Cross pays for three days at a hotel, and a lot of agencies will help these folks find housing. But once they pay whatever it takes to get it into housing first and last [months rent], a deposit, or a combination of all those there can be nothing left for furnishings, said Paula Massey.

She s a 42-year-old Sylvanian who interrupted her social-work studies at the University of Toledo to help found the Toledo-Lucas County Furniture Bank.

Already, the nonprofit has served up to 50 clients not bad for an agency that didn t even officially open until today.

Paula, the furniture bank s unsalaried executive director, was thrilled to have finally snared much-needed warehouse and office space in East Toledo.

For one thing, it meant she and the handful of others dedicated to starting the bank could move couches, dressers, tables, dishes, and appliances all given away free out of their garages.

The bank has gone from zero to 60 in a very short time. Paula and the bank s board president, Bonnie Hunter, conjured up the notion independently of each other; when they shared their ah-ha! moments, it was clear they needed to take the next step to establish the agency.

The first week in January, we came up with the idea, Paula recounted. By March, we were incorporated and had our first board meeting and began serving clients on a limited basis.

Early on, the bank sent letters to some social-service agencies to gauge demand. Soon, Paula said, I started getting calls at 6 a.m. and 10 at night. Bonnie calls us the worst-kept secret in Toledo. We haven t done any publicity, but word spread like mad.

The agency at first intended to help all low-income clients, but, as Paula said: You know what? There are too many of those. So we had to decide who was getting through and who wasn t, and that s really hard.

Now, the furniture bank targets seven groups: homeless people making the transition off the streets (the largest group so far); battered women; those with physical or mental disabilities; pregnant or parenting teens; graduates of drug and alcohol programs, and disaster or house-fire victims.

The bank accepts no walk-ins, only clients preapproved by other agencies.

Paula: My referrals come in at about five a day, and we can only take 10 a week. You do the math. There s no way we can meet the need.

Our clients are poor. They can t even afford to shop in thrift stores.

We project serving up to 600 clients a year now, but that won t even scratch the surface. We could easily serve three times that.

Contact the Toledo-Lucas County Furniture Bank, 812 Starr Ave., at 419-691-2131. Remember, the bank takes clients only by referral.



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