According to former Furniture Bank of Central Ohio CEO Steve Votaw, our community has several thousand kids who sleep on the floor every night because they don’t have a bed to call their own. At the same time, central Ohioans are throwing tons of good furniture into the landfill every year. Votaw was the nonprofit’s CEO from 2015 to the end of 2021, when he retired. He was replaced by Phil Washburn who previously worked for Habitat for Humanity – Mid-Ohio.
A home should be a person’s safe space, says Steve. It’s where they turn to when they’re in stress. But in order for a house to truly be a nurturing space, it needs to have comfortable beds and furniture to relax on before facing the next day’s challenges.
There’s no doubt that families are more stable when their basic needs are being met. But even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 central Ohioans lacked the income needed to meet basic needs without assistance. The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio is one of 92 nonprofits United Way partners with to support families and students in our community. The agency’s mission to turn houses into homes is simple, but the impact is life changing for many people.
As an illustration, Steve tells the story of a young mother who was expecting her third child. She was seven months pregnant and was sleeping on the floor. The Furniture Bank was able to give the family a house full of furniture — a queen mattress for the parents and beds for the two children.
“It was just really powerful,” says Steve. “I mean, when you think about what was going on in COVID and people were asked to shelter in place. We had families that had no furniture whatsoever.”
The Furniture Bank was established in 1998 to help furnish the homes of people emerging from homelessness. After operating out of the basement of a church, the agency moved to its current facility in Franklinton. A member of the Furniture Bank Association of North America, it’s one of the largest furniture banks in the country.
In its 20+ years of operation, the Furniture Bank has served more than 70,000 families in central Ohio by providing more than 900,000 pieces of furniture. It relies on the dedication of more than 2,500 volunteers to help fulfill its mission. In 2021 alone, the nonprofit served more than 2,541 families and provided over 30,000 pieces of furniture and household items.
A portion of Furniture Bank’s funding comes from its social enterprise operations, Furniture with a Heart Thrift Store and Downsize with a Heart moving and downsizing business. In 2021, the store sold more than 17,450 pieces of furniture and the downsizing business fulfilled 359 job requests.
“The way we can really make a difference is by all working together,” Steve says. “And that’s the beauty of United Way. It has that big picture.”