Introducing Redwood Furniture Bank
Furniture Bank is excited to share the news that it is supporting the creation of a new furniture bank in Barrie – The Redwood Furniture Bank.
While we remain focused on serving marginalized families in the GTA, Furniture Bank Toronto is thrilled at the opportunity to support other communities across Canada working to end furniture poverty.
To that end, we have established a ‘centre of excellence’ program at Furniture Bank to support the creation of new furniture banks in new communities beyond Toronto.
The Goal? To share our resources, infrastructure, and expertise with other furniture banks through cost-sharing arrangements. This is a core goal of our 2018 strategic plan and builds on our social innovation goal to develop and support a thriving furniture bank network across Canada.
Our Bold Dream
We believed that we could use our experience and infrastructure to assist other furniture banks without straining our own resources and impairing our ability to serve families in need in the GTA.
To maximize our chances for success, and to facilitate collaboration, the ‘test community’ had to be within easy driving distance from Toronto. Barrie, Newmarket, Hamilton, Guelph, and Peterborough were all considered as likely target communities.
Out of the blue in the fall of 2018, Redwood Park Communities (Redwood), a charity in Barrie, reached out. Redwood has a mandate to source social housing in Barrie and to fill each unit with a success kit that starts each home with furniture, food, and housewares. They wanted to see how we did things here in Toronto – and we immediately knew we had the makings of a fantastic social innovation pilot.
The logistical and operational challenge of furnishing all of the new social housing units Redwood had completed was starting to take a toll on the charity’s Family Support team. Recognizing they were at capacity, their Executive Director Tim Kent googled ‘how to run a furniture bank.’ A week later, Tim and his team were touring Furniture Bank Toronto to see our operation in action.
Fast forward a few months to October 2018. While attending a Redwood Park Communities’ YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard Event), City of Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman sought out representatives from Redwood and Furniture Bank Toronto. He challenged both parties to find a solution to bring a furniture bank to the community.
This challenge was aligned with the Mayor’s mandate to support social enterprise in the community through the Shift Government Project.
Also, by collaborating and leveraging existing resources, a collective of established organizations and companies recognized that they could support the City in addressing social employment, housing, poverty, and diverting usable items from landfill. As a result, Impact Collective – a group of socially-minded entrepreneurs, across multiple sectors working together to create a cohesive, supportive network of resources within the City of Barrie – was formed. Redwood and Furniture Bank were among this group.
In November 2018, Mayor Lehman brought together like-minded social enterprises: Furniture Bank Toronto, Robb Meier of Brix, Elly Green of Georgian College, Tim Kent of Redwood and Annalee Sawiak of Furniture Link Inc. We set the broad goal of creating a furniture bank in Barrie. It would be a circular economy ‘proof of concept’ that maximized reuse and landfill diversion, a growing concern in the community. We knew the project would need sustainable, independent resources and minimal start-up costs. Furniture Link undertook to drive that model.
We turned our focus on what we knew were the barriers to entry for many new furniture banks:
- How to move furniture from donors to clients?
- How to acquire a flow of quality furniture for reuse?
- How to operate a back-office function that tracks goods acquired, donations-in-kind received, produce impact statements and donation receipts?
- How to raise awareness of the service?
- How to capture inbound queries?
- How to fund the creation and operation of these back-office systems?
While Furniture Bank Toronto has a large furniture removal and delivery fleet in Toronto – neither organization had resources to invest in costly staff and trucking assets, and we could not divert funds from our core mission.
This is a breakthrough for communities across Canada – and North America!
Facilitating a four-party collaboration between a local agency, a sister charity & social enterprise, and a local business to create a sustainable reuse network in Barrie is a tremendous case study of environmental impact and social innovation.
How it all came together
We turned to our commercial partner Furniture Link, and its CEO and Founder Annalee Sawiak, to help architect and facilitate the pilot – a scalable, sustainable commercial model that would yield social and environmental outcomes. Furniture Link hosts the Furniture Bank Network and brings commercial opportunities such as this to its members around North America.
At the suggestion of the Impact Collective, chaired by Mayor Lehman, community ambassadors Barbara and Jeff White were invited to the table to discuss how their transportation company might assist. Barbara and Jeff immediately gave their support and Jeff White Group was added to the collaboration.
Furniture Link reviewed the core strengths and capabilities of each party and designed an innovative collaboration model which did not replicate any existing resources or require upfront fees to launch:
- Furniture Bank Toronto’s existing online system could be used to book Redwood clients furniture requests and schedule deliveries.
- Our digital marketing could drive inbound furniture removal queries from Barrie and Simcoe County region. Due to distance (and associated fuel costs), we had been declining donor queries from the region.
- Our team has the capability needed to run the back office sales funnel, including managing inbound queries and referring them to Redwood’s transportation partner The Jeff White Group / Jeff’s Junk.
- Using leads generated from Furniture Bank Toronto’s marketing efforts, Jeff’s Junk would manage both furniture removal from donor’s homes and deliveries to client families on behalf of Redwood Furniture Bank.
- To sustain the model, a revenue share arrangement was put in place that covered Furniture Bank Toronto’s costs of supporting Redwood with infrastructure and marketing and drove additional revenue to The Jeff White Group.
- Our ongoing focus on social and environmental impact measurement can be applied with Redwood Furniture Bank with no added costs to Redwood, and we get a new community cohort to include in the analysis.
Furniture Link developed a model which permits organizations to tap into Furniture Bank’s infrastructure and expertise, while leveraging an existing commercial transport partner, to launch and/or expand a furniture bank in their community.
This Circular Economy ‘proof of concept’ maximizes environmental, economic and social impact in a financially sustainable manner.
Jeff’s Junk is thrilled to be a community partner with the new Furniture Bank in Barrie.
The value of social enterprise and helping turning houses into homes for those in need is so important to us as a company and as a family-owned business.
Georgian College learned from the Impact Collective work of what Furniture Bank and Redwood were trying to accomplish and decided to put their shoulders behind the project. The school brought in their Honours Bachelor of Business Administration Management & Leadership students who developed a model for an innovative social enterprise that Redwood might consider when launching their Furniture Bank in Barrie, leveraging what Furniture Bank Toronto could provide. Georgian’s Enactus group is looking to collaborate with Redwood Furniture Bank this year to explore a model of renting ‘furniture kits’ for students who cannot afford to furnish their housing while studying at Georgian, a key problem identified by the research.
At the same time, the Social Enterprise Network of Central Ontario (SENCO) housed at Georgian’s Centre for Changemaking, and Social Innovation awarded Furniture Bank $4,500 through its Traction Grant program – which received over 25 submissions from social enterprises across Central Ontario – to support some of the startup costs associated with this new pilot.
The Model in Action ‘Furniture Bank in a Box’
With all the players in place, we are ready to launch.
As of August 1, residents and businesses in the Simcoe Region wishing to get rid of their usable (but unwanted) furniture can call Furniture Bank Toronto.
Our team will book furniture removal service through our scheduling platform and a team from Jeff White Group will pick up the donation and bring it to Redwood.
In turn, Redwood will work with Jeff White Group to ensure the goods are delivered to one of the over 10,000 families and individuals in the region who are in need of basic furnishings.
Sharing and expanding
Through our learnings in Barrie, we will refine processes and procedures, and capture best practices to offer a new ‘Furniture in a Box’ model to be available to any community working to end furniture poverty.
As we build out our ‘centre of excellence’, we will be able to extend valuable support to other communities across the country – from Vancouver to St. John’s – ultimately impacting the lives of thousands of marginalized and displaced families.
As the founding member in the Furniture Bank Network, we will share these learnings across the North American network as the new Furniture Bank in Barrie becomes the 50th member in the network!
Live in Simcoe County?
Looking for a socially and environmentally responsible solution to get rid of your usable but unwanted furniture and housewares?
Call Furniture Bank at 1-888-432-8449 for a furniture removal quote.
We’ll work with our transportation partner Jeff White Group to ensure your donation is professionally removed and transported to the Barrie Furniture Bank to support families and individuals in need.