After the April tornado severely damaged their house near Serendipity Drive, Jason Flores and his family found themselves without clothes to wear or beds of their own to sleep in. As the Raleigh family moved through several temporary houses with borrowed possessions, their children longed to have toys, clothes and furniture of their own again.
"Basically we were starting from scratch," Flores said. "We had one income, four kids under the age of 10 and no clothing or furniture."
Instead of having to piece their life back together alone, the family was referred by the Salvation Army to The Green Chair Project, a local nonprofit that provides gently used furniture and household items to people who are starting over.
The family went to The Green Chair Project showroom and picked out new-to-them furnishings for their rental home. They walked out the door with everything from a couch and chair, lamps for their new end tables and dishes to put in the kitchen cabinet. Flores even went home with a coffee maker.
"The Green Chair Project gave our children stability, and we no longer had to worry about how we were going to replace things," Flores said. "They didn't just give us furniture, they gave us a home."
Helping 80 families
Throughout the year, The Green Chair Project helps clients referred through agencies such as the Red Cross, InterAct and Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network transition from homelessness to a place of their own.
Volunteers work with the families or individuals to find out their decorating style, favorite colors and even what types of fabric they prefer. The clients "shop" for the furnishings in the showroom and then work with a designer to help arrange their belongings in their new home.
"It's a very dignified experience. It's not a handout but a hand up. We try to make it very empowering," Craig said.
When the tornadoes hit in April, The Green Chair Project partnered with the Salvation Army to provide household items to more than 80 Raleigh families and waived their nominal fee.
"People often think that you can just replace furniture, but don't realize that these families lost all sense of a home," Craig said.
Most of the families affected by the tornado left The Green Chair Project showroom in tears. Instead of just getting a random couch, they now had pictures to hang on their walls and pillows that matched their new bedding, said Jackie Craig, one of the group's founders.
After the storm, people donated enough furniture and household items to fill a 20,000 square foot warehouse five times. "The community really pitched in. We were overwhelmed by the response," Craig said.
Starting from a closet
When working as real estate stagers last year, Beth Smoot and Craig realized how much extra stuff people have. Craig volunteered with women transitioning from prison and saw how much having a place that felt like home helped people get back on their feet.
The two Raleigh women founded The Green Chair Project and began storing items they collected in a closet at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh. The organization moved into its own location in January and is now moving into a larger space on Capital Boulevard in December.
After Hurricane Irene, many more people in North Carolina now need help from The Green Chair Project. The group is partnering with FEMA and is asking the community for gently used items to donate. In addition to furniture and cash donations, the group is looking for more volunteers.
"Not everyone can use a chainsaw to help cut down trees for people, but everyone can dust furniture or help load a couch," Craig said. "We have lots of hands-on opportunities for everyone to help and make a difference."
After seeing the work of The Green Chair Project firsthand, Flores plans to volunteer with the organization as soon as the family is back on their feet.
"If you can give one lamp, $10, an hour of your time, or even an entire household, anything and everything can help change one person's life immensely," Flores said.