The "social enterprise" experiment by the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio with the opening of a thrift store in the Northland area has paid off, according to the president of the nonprofit organization.
"Essentially, it's exceeded our expectations," Steve Votaw said last week.
Dubbed Furniture With a Heart, the fundraising operation opened last April in a former Rite Rug store and warehouse at 2165 Morse Road.
From April 13 through the end of 2016, the sale of donated furniture and other household items judged not to be appropriate for clients of the organization brought in close to $700,000, Votaw said. That's almost $200,000 more than had been anticipated, he added.
Furniture With a Heart ended 2016 with a surplus of $40,000.
"Which we didn't expect to have that fast," Votaw said. "We are very excited about our initial year of the store."
He said the $40,000 can help serve the needs of 160 families.
The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, which was founded in November 1998 as Material Assistance Providers "provides free furniture to people in need due to poverty or other severe life challenges," according to the Franklinton-based nonprofit's website.
"Our goal is for all central Ohio families to live in furnished homes, thereby relieving suffering, strengthening family units, improving quality of life and building a better community," the site added.
The thrift store was started after local officials visited a similar operation run by the Cleveland Furniture Bank.
Since the grand opening of Furniture With a Heart, Ashly Priest, a recent addition to the local furniture bank as a marketing specialist, said social media and traditional advertising have been used to make the public aware of the thrift store. Items sold at the store represent about 10 percent of what is donated; most would not be appropriate for the small apartments and homes of people in need of free beds, dressers and kitchen tables, Priest and Votaw said.
"The vast, vast majority of everything that's donated to the Furniture Bank goes to families in need," Votaw said.
"We get a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces," according to Priest.
Donated items also include exercise equipment and grandfather clocks, neither of which are much use to people in need of basic furnishings, Votaw said.
Priest said what the thrift store receives for the purchase of, for example, a large sectional couch can help the nonprofit furnish an entire home for a family.
"You're buying local and you're helping local, as well," Priest said.
Some clients of the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio previously relied on homeless shelters to get a roof over their heads, she added.
"They've never had anything of their own," Priest said. "If your child has never had a bed of his own, you just need a bed."
Votaw said Furniture Bank of Central Ohio officials recently worked out a deal with a mattress company in order to be able to sell new mattresses out of the thrift store. The store already sold lots of bed frames, but could not accept donations of used mattresses, he pointed out.
"We started that primarily because of customer demand," Votaw said.