Furniture bank gives fresh starts to homeless - East Valley Tribune: News

Furniture bank gives fresh starts to homeless

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Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 12:05 am | Updated: 6:36 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The answers to some prayers come upholstered — in florals, in orange fabric, in black leather. And Jim and Donna Piscopo, working out of an old meatpacking plant in west Mesa, help bring those answers to people in need of a fresh start — and a fresh apartment.

Three years ago, the Piscopos quit their jobs and gave up their Scottsdale house to start Bridging AZ Furniture Bank, an organization that provides furniture to people coming out of homelessness, domestic violence and other hardships.

“When these women leave the shelter, they have nothing,” said Jim Piscopo, adding that the lack of furniture — along with the lack of startup funds — is one of the main reasons women may stay with an abuser.

To provide furnishings, he explained, is to provide a way for a person who’s starting over to plant roots and to heal.

“Furniture has the ability to help families, to help them bond as a family,” said Averelle Levings, the organization’s development director.

For example, one of the things case workers suggest to healing families — sitting down around the dinner table and communicating — relies on the family’s need for a table and chairs.

Furniture creates a healthier environment all-around, she said.

When clients come to the warehouse, located in a nondescript brick building just north of Main Street, a case worker and staff member take them into the warehouse, where they can choose furniture from an inventory of sofas, armoires, tables, dining sets, beds and other items.

“I have families that have really struggled and have done really good, but they don’t have the extras, so they live in an apartment with absolutely nothing,” said Denise Ruiz, a caseworker with the Family Builder Program.

“They might have a chair or maybe a mattress. This, especially with families with children, furnishes the home so they can have their own bed, their own dresser, a place to sit to eat dinner. It helps the family get united again and keeps them on their feet.”

Ruiz said there isn’t a similar program anywhere in the Valley, and she would love to see it expand.

The Piscopos’ story started when they enrolled in a four-year “education for ministry” program at St. Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal Church in Paradise Valley.

“After this, we felt a little empty. It prepared us for the mind-set of ministry ... to really walk the talk,” said Jim, who had been volunteering at a domestic violence shelter in Chandler.

While there, Jim saw caseworkers trying to store furniture for their clients. He was surprised to learn that when the women moved into their new apartments they weren’t given any furnishings.

He bought a dining room set for $35 at a rummage sale and gave it to them. Before long, his activity was growing: Friends gave him couches or dressers which he kept in a storage locker.

Then, a friend donated office space to provide him with more room.

In 2003, at Christmas, Jim decided to give up his contractor license. Then the couple did something else: “We knew we’d need money. So we sold our house to provide living expenses for three years,” Jim said.

Since those humble beginnings, they’ve grown.

They operate by soliciting furniture and money from individuals and from local businesses.

So far, both have been generous. Between individual donations, estates and local businesses, they’ve helped more than 325 clients since 2004.

“I think it was apparent we were filling a niche,” Donna said. “And people get a kick out of what we do. It’s fun. It’s so much fun.”

Recently, the Piscopos have noticed a new customer group coming in, too — grandparents who are caretakers of their grandchildren. These people, often on fixed incomes, don’t have the money to buy new bedroom sets for their grandchildren, Jim said.

For that, the couple is launching a “Buy a kid a bed,” campaign, raising money to purchase 5,000 children’s bunk beds in five years.

It takes $60 to pay for half a bunk set. From now, until the end of the year, a private donor has agreed to match any financial donations to the furniture bank up to $25,000.

The organization has received some big-time honors, too.

The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce recently awarded the furniture bank the prestigious Sterling Award for a nonprofit business.

More information:

Bridging AZ Furniture Bank

Phone: (480) 833-3997

Web: www.bridgingaz.org

Donate: The organization accepts monetary donations, as well as well-maintained pieces of furniture.

It is also eligible for tax credit donations.

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