ARCHBOLD, Ohio — They arrive before the warehouse opens.
Crowded in a narrow alley sandwiched between bunches of buildings, they gather.
With hope, they wait.
Hope for a sofa, a dresser, a bed for their children. Hope for an oven on which to cook dinner. And perhaps, please, some plates and silverware, pots and pans.
On Saturdays, people who lack money to buy home furnishings can “shop” for free household goods at a local warehouse through the Furniture/Appliance Recycling Program, based in Archbold, a Fulton County village.
This isn’t a holiday outreach program — the need is not seasonal, said Mike Torres, 24, program volunteer.
During its 15 years of operation, the program has collected — through donations by area residents — (dare we say Heaven-sent) heaps of good, usable furniture, and appliances. Then those items are “recycled” — donated to area residents in need of such items.
Jerry Rohrs, program director, racks up more than 10,000 delivery miles annually on his pickup truck, pulling a trailer to and from destinations. Gather, distribute. Drive, drive, drive. Load a sofa, deliver a desk.
Pitch in. Reach out, reach out ... to people in need in Fulton County, in northern Henry County, and from time to time, in nearby Lucas County and the edge of Michigan.
Those who want to donate to the furniture program — or who need help — can call St. Martin’s Lutheran Church at 419-445-4656.
Sometimes, hope isn’t enough.
“Demand for appliances and furniture is increasing because of the economy. More and more people are in need,” said Mr. Rohrs, who was editor of the Farmland News for 40 years.
By far, requests for assistance outnumber items available to give away, he said, thumbing through a stack of unmet requests submitted in the last couple of months.
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Washers, driers, and ovens are among the most-sought-after appliances. Some families come looking for bath towels and bed sheets, baby cribs and blankets.
No signs direct residents to the warehouse, and there’s no sign on the building. There is, however, word of mouth. “Those in need, they find us,” Mr. Rohrs said.
Mr. Torres did just that after moving to Archbold from Texas a year ago. He got a job, but with a family with three children, money was short, and he couldn’t afford to buy a couch. Then he heard about the outreach program.
“I showed up one Saturday and was amazed,” he said. Not only did he get a couch, but volunteers delivered it to his home.
Later, he returned to the warehouse. “They asked me what I needed and I told them. They loaded up a washer, took it right to my door,” he said, and as he watched in disbelief, volunteers assembled the appliance, making it laundry-day ready.
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Touched, “I couldn’t turn my back and not help out others,” he said.
Other volunteers include Jeremy Litchfield, 25, of Archbold, who has a part-time job but makes time to help with pickups and deliveries.
He and Mr. Torres tease that Mr. Rohrs, 66, carries the couch pillows and the strong, young guys do the heavy lifting. But the volunteers agree: The blessings far outweigh the couches, washers, driers, and other furniture and appliances they load and unload.
“We help out so many families. There are a lot of families in need,” Mr. Torres said. “Here we can help people throughout the whole community. I am proud to be involved in helping out others.”
Added Mr. Litchfield: “When you deliver beds to a home where the kids do not have beds, it gives you a good feeling.”
You can see, and feel, the gratitude in the warehouse as residents “shop” for what they need. Area residents who want to donate to the program — or who need help — can call St. Martin’s Lutheran Church at 419-445-4656, in Archbold.
A small percentage of items are donated to shelters in the community, such as the Friendship House, owned by the Archbold community and overseen by Mr. Rohrs’ wife, Cecily. She is lead shepherd for four shelters under the umbrella of Shepherd’s Circle, a nonprofit organization. The shelters house a diverse group of people who are working toward a fresh start — for a place to fit in and for ways to connect to the community and be involved, Mrs. Rohrs said. Community support and mentoring are provided as shelter residents make transitions.
The Furniture/Appliance Recycling Program warehouse — space and utilities donated by Sauder Woodworking, Mr. Rohrs said — is a joyous jumble of mattresses, dressers, desks, tables, telephones, clothes, and Christmas trees. In the mix, an electric typewriter. An antique for sure; Mr. Torres figured, considering he had never seen such a contraption.
Neither had he ever seen a pot-bellied pig until a visit with Lee Schnitkey, whose home near Archbold sustained water, smoke, and fire damage on Nov. 16.
Lulu the pig, whose oink startled Mr. Torres, is in hog heaven now that Mrs. Schnitkey sleeps in a former chicken coop with her pet.
After the fire, Mrs. Schnitkey and her husband, Ed, took shelter in a portion of the large farm building near the damaged farmhouse. With donated furniture, carpet, and other household items, the chicken coop has been converted into a cozy, but temporary, home-away-from-home.
Plans were being made, she said, to convert into a bathroom the chicken coop’s cooler, where eggs were kept under refrigeration.
Everyone is asking, she said, how long until the house is ready for them to move back in, and she gives the same answer: “We have no idea.”
In the meantime, she struggles to be upbeat as possible, praying to calm the waves of despair.
She draws strength from the many blessings unfolding around her. As she praised the outreach program, she described Mr. Rohrs as “amazing, truly amazing.” His was a humble, no-need-to-thank-me response, prompting a hug of gratitude that tugged at the tear ducts.
“I can’t describe how giving people are,” Mrs. Schnitkey said, glancing around the room, furnished with places to sit and places to sleep because of the goodness of others.
She sends thank-you notes: “In our darkest days you have given us hope.”
Contact Janet Romaker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6006.