Call goes out for donations amid hard times at Toronto's Furniture Bank

A Toronto furniture charity that helps thousands of people every year is struggling to furnish its own warehouse.

Charity helps thousands furnish homes but is struggling to meet the need

Lia Fedak, a Furniture Bank coordinator, assists clients in the charity's Etobicoke showroom. (Barry Smith/CBC)

A Toronto furniture charity that helps thousands of people every year is struggling to furnish its own warehouse.

The Furniture Bank, a registered charity and social enterprise, passes donated items on to individuals and families in need.

That need is high right now, but the Furniture Bank is running low.

"This room should be brimming with furniture," executive director Dan Kershaw said in an empty section of the charity's Etobicoke warehouse.

Running at full capacity, the Furniture Bank, which was founded in 1998, can help about 20 families per day, but right now they can only manage about half that.

Dan Kershaw says there is 'crisis' in the GTA right now with as many as 50,000 families in need of furniture. (Barry Smith/CBC)

There is an active waiting list and Kershaw estimates there are as many 50,000 families in the GTA in need of furniture, including refugees, new immigrants and women escaping abuse.

"More furniture allows us to help more families. It's that simple," Kershaw said.

Furniture not a priority

One of the families, Dimpy Komal, Deepak Kathait and their six-year-old daughter, toured the Furniture Bank's showroom on Thursday.

They immigrated from India less than two years ago. Komal is studying right now and most of the family's income goes towards their north Etobicoke apartment.

"Housing takes a lot of money. It's a major cost. It's more than what I expected," Komal said.

Add on groceries, transportation and child care, and buying a coffee table slides down the priority list.

A truck is loaded at the Furniture Bank in Etobicoke. The charity is in need of more donated furniture. (Barry Smith/CBC)

"Furniture is far down that list," Komal said.

Kershaw says furniture is an important social need but one that gets overshadowed by housing.

"We're that very last mile, where people who have keys to an empty apartment come here to build a home," he said.

'Treated with dignity'

And how the Furniture Bank does this is important.

Families are invited to the showroom and assisted in selecting the right furniture. It's then delivered for a subsidized fee ranging from $100 to $200 right to their home.

Janice Fedak, a professional interior designer who volunteers for the charity, says she treats people at Furniture Bank the same way she treats her professional clients.

Janice Fedak is an interior designer who volunteers at the Furniture Bank. (Barry Smith/CBC)

"They're all the same. Everyone is picking the things that they need to make their house a home," she said.

As she guides them through the showroom, Fedak tries to get a sense of the space being furnished and a family's needs in order to help them choose the right items.

"The most important thing is that they're treated with dignity," she said.

'We had 3 sleeping bags and a milk crate'

Martin Train is single father, who experienced homelessness for the first time over three years ago. 

After he was able to secure a townhouse in Leslieville, his kids came back to stay with him, but it still didn't feel like a home.

"We're sitting on the floor, we had 3 sleeping bags and a milk crate. And that is all we had," he said.

Train said living without furniture was socially isolating.

"I couldn't have anyone over. It was demoralizing," Train said in an interview.

But after contacting the Furniture Bank, Train said they helped him furnish the townhouse within 48 hours.

"For something like that to happen to you and your family is very humbling," Train said. "They treated us with respect."

Donations accepted

The Furniture Bank gets many of its items through its pickup service.

For a fee, they will pick up unwanted items that people want to donate.

A tax receipt is provided.

The fees offset the cost of the service and fund the enterprise.

The Furniture Bank also raises money through traditional fundraising drives.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that the Furniture Bank makes deliveries free of charge. In fact, there is a fee for its delivery service.
    Feb 21, 2018 5:27 PM ET

About the Author

Trevor Dunn

Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español. trevor.dunn@cbc.ca

With files from Julia Knope