One suitcase. When Nathalie Maione helped a family move into their home in 2005, every single one of their belongings could fit into just that small, rectangular holdall.
Thus the idea for charitable organization, Helping With Furniture, was born in Ottawa.
Fifteen years later, there are over 200 volunteers who thoughtfully sift through household items, like furniture, appliances, wall art and linen, in order to furnish the homes of those in need.
Based on the philosophy that no one in our society should be lacking basic necessities, the comfort of home being one of them, Maione believes that her organization has seen such growth simply due to the fact that there is a demand on both sides: donors need to be able to pass on their good furniture instead of having it end up in the landfill and clients are in desperate need of those items.
Although she now identifies as Canadian, Maione can relate to feelings of loneliness and isolation that tend to permeate one's existence. As an 11-year-old girl, her entire world was uprooted when her family moved from France to Canada.
“It’s very daunting to feel alone and forgotten and it's not only immigrants and refugees that feel that way. There’s a lot of the Canadian population that feel alone, like they don't matter, and their life is a struggle,” she explains.
From the garages of family and friends, to a self-storage warehouse, to a multifaceted operation, Helping with Furniture has been able to grow in part thanks to their own fundraising efforts and the generosity of the local community.
Although COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into what Maione described as a “well-oiled machine.”
Due to the threat of the virus, pick-up and delivery services have been suspended, leaving Maione and her team to work mostly outdoors, which she admits is an enormous challenge, especially with winter on the horizon. Currently seeking a bigger space for storage, their outdoor parking-lot-turned-showroom is temporary and will not be able to sustain the inevitable blowing snow and below freezing temperatures.
Putting the initiative on hold is simply not an option.
In 2019, Helping with Furniture transformed 308 homes and, with COVID-19, the demand has increased by 33 per cent, which sees them working on anywhere from 10 to 12 homes per week.
Although the number of donations has increased as well, explains Maione, there currently remain over 300 people on their waitlist.
“What always amazes me about our clients,” explains Maione, “is that they have an unimaginable strength and desire to live and to continue. It’s amazing to see how much courage they have and how they surmount challenges.”
It’s all about a strong community for Helping with Furniture and, in a way, it’s become a self-sustaining endeavour, or positive feedback loop, as clients, one day, become volunteers themselves. And the local support from organizations like Ottawa Dragon Boat Foundation, Home Depot and Penske, allows them, in turn, to redistribute supplies, further supporting additional organizations like Twice Upon a Time and Shepherds of Good Hope.
Working 35 hours a week as a full-time kindergarten educator, Maione still manages to put in up to 45 additional hours volunteering.
“Every minute that I'm off my job - lunch hour, coffee breaks, evenings, weekends - is all Helping with Furniture. It’s not okay for families or individuals to have to sleep or eat on the floor or be in an empty shell of a house. It’s not a home.”To donate funds or items, or if you have a space suitable for Helping with Furniture’s needs this winter, go to https://www.hwfottawa.org