Leaders at Furniture Bank have described their vision for the future as one where, “Furniture Bank is no longer needed”. In this vision, the ideal future for the community that Furniture Bank supports is one where the community sustains itself – neighbours reach out across economic, social and cultural divides to ensure that no one goes without — and no one gets left behind. Practically, what would individual community members need to accomplish to achieve this vision?
- Well, first we would each need to see, really see, the needs in our community – Even without the logistics, this is not always easy in a world full of worries, demands, schedules and uncertainty that keeps many of us overwhelmed just trying to manage our daily obligations.
- Second, we would each need to know how to best respond to the need that we saw – Again, not always easy given that the majority of us can barely imagine the struggles and challenges that so many of our neighbours face every day; let alone suggest a solution to them.
- Third, we would each need to figure out how to match our own over-consumption with the fluctuating needs/demands of the community.
- Fourth, we would each need to ground ourselves in empathy and love to make sure that whatever we offered up came from a place of caring compassion, and was given free of discrimination, prejudice, judgement and condescension – Need I say more?
- And fifth, we would each need to care enough about our community and neighbours to actually shift out of our ingrained behaviours, and do something that may be hard, inconvenient, and outside of our comfort zone.
A challenge indeed! And although these supra-human challenges are tackled every day by organizations like Furniture Bank, and real improvements in society are accomplished, society continues to see the act of ‘giving’ as an act of ‘charity’. Many people continue to view community organizations as cost-centres, failing to make the connection between time, resources and money invested, and the positive returns we actually see in our communities.
When faced with these challenging mindsets and social norms, community organizations are forced to take an altruistic position; forced to describe their actions as ‘filling the gap’ between what some in the community need, and what others in the community are willing to share. To fill the needs of some, others must be asked to give.
Furniture Bank relies on the charity, generosity and goodness of its donors, who provide a range of resources including financial, in-kind, and their time. Yes – volunteers are donors too, and Furniture Bank enables more than 600 volunteers to re-engage with, and invest in bettering their community each year. This amounts to around 10,000 hours each year – each one spent in direct, one-on-one interaction with the families who rely on Furniture Bank, and who attest to the value and benefit it has brought to their lives.
Most importantly, this isn’t a one-way transaction – it isn’t a one-way flow of energy and time from one group to another, but rather an exchange; a cycling of giving what we have to offer.
With organizations like Furniture Bank positioned as community catalysts we can start to change our perspective:
- Donation – More than just a piece of furniture, or a sum of money; instead an investment into the community. A statement of intent to contribute in whatever small way to making the lives of our neighbours better; reaching out from our isolated lives in some form or another.
- Recycling – No longer just about putting a soda can into a blue bin, but putting love, caring, and kindness back into the community that has treated us well. Recycling energy; Recycling caring; and sure – recycling a sofa, mattress or table too.
- Volunteering – Again, more than just spending time, building teams, and patting each other on the back; now instead a reinvestment of energy into the community – turning energy into a new form that makes a huge difference for those who may be running a little low.
You could say that organizations like Furniture Bank enable the best in people: for those who are receiving, a fulfilled need and a resurrection of faith in human goodness; for those who are sharing, a new perspective on life and blessings, and an opportunity to give something back. At the end of the day, everyone involved can understand each other a little better.
Ultimately, what must be realized is that although Furniture Bank fundamentally fills a gap between need and giving, more importantly, Furniture Bank creates a two-way exchange opportunity that enables everyday community members to overcome the big challenges to achieving a giving-perspective. To achieving a more self-sustaining, giving community.
Thank you Furniture Bank for being the catalyst that lets me reconnect with my community; for being the catalyst that enables my neighbours to give and receive, and come away better for the experience; for filing in the gaps and spaces that exist between the need in the community, and my own ability to fill that gap. Let’s change the conversation we are having – because I want mine to be a GIVING community.
By Jennifer Russell
Jennifer has been recently appointed to the Board of Directors at Furniture Bank. Her background is in waste management and sustainability.