June 2, 2010 // Local

Mustard Seed offers household goods for families facing disaster

The warehouse of the Mustard Seed Furniture Bank, located at 3636 Illinois Rd., has double its storage capacity since its move from its former location on Keystone Dr. in November of 2009.

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — Have you ever wondered what you would do if you lost everything in a fire or flood? One viable solution — the Mustard Seed Furniture Bank — exists right here in the Summit City. Its mission is to provide household furnishings to families and individuals as they rebuild their lives after suffering disaster, personal tragedy or other misfortunes.

The only furniture bank in Indiana, one of 65 in the U.S. and Canada, the Mustard Seed serves families from seven counties including Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wells and Whitley. The nonprofit agency has served over 3,650 area households since its inception in 2002 and relies on both monetary and material donations as well as grants and fundraising events to sustain its ministry.

Executive Director Suzie Jordan reports that the furniture bank sees six households a day in their new facility at 3636 Illinois Rd., doubling not only warehouse and office space but their client base as well, from the original site on Keystone Drive. “It’s kind of like what we do with clients. We took an empty building and made it home,” Jordan says of the new space.

Mustard Seed clients must be referred by one of the over 130 local social agencies, churches and nonprofit organizations in the area to make an appointment and range from single moms or dads who are establishing a household after a crisis situation to a disabled veteran in need of a kitchen table. They must have been a resident of one of the seven counties for six months prior to seeking assistance.

Jordan says the bank doesn’t duplicate what the other agencies do but rather assists families who are rebuilding their lives following such devastating misfortune as fire or flood in their home, domestic violence, mental or physical disability and incarceration or substance abuse recovery.

The client referral process includes a home visit and appropriate paperwork and is open for two months. Assistance from the furniture bank is limited to once in a lifetime and there is a $20 processing fee. Each client is responsible for transporting the up to four large furniture items and other goods they receive.

Though the furniture bank does not distribute baby items, clothes, electronics, exercise items, major appliances, medical items, computers, large desks or entertainment centers, it offers much in the way of refurnishing a home. Bedroom, living room and kitchen furniture, bed linens and blankets, basic kitchenware and bath and kitchen towels are all available at the Mustard Seed Furniture Bank, through generous community donations.

Jordan says of the furniture, kitchen and bedding donations, “As fast as it comes in it’ll be gone in weeks.”

Another viable program offered by the bank is Beds4Kids, which supplies new twin size foundations and mattresses to all children under age 18 in need of a bed within a client’s family. The beds, says Jordan, are donated or purchased for $100 each from a local company.

Sam Hatch, Mustard Seed Furniture Bank warehouse director, left, moves a donated table into the warehouse with the assistance of volunteer Mike Parnin.

The minimal staff includes Jordan, who is full-time, and five part-time employees. Barb Horn-May is the bank’s ever-efficient office assistant and Sam Hatch, who began as a volunteer through Catholic Charities Senior Aides program, is currently the warehouse director. The bank employs three drivers who rotate to pick up large furniture donations in the bank’s lone truck.

The Mustard Seed Furniture Bank relies heavily on their over 60 generous volunteers, who support day-to-day operations that include sorting, restocking items, cleaning and helping where needed. Individuals and groups of volunteers are always welcome, says Jordan, who adds the minimum age to work independently is high school age.

But Jordan, a member of Queen of Angels Parish, says this ministry offers more than just replacement furniture to their clients. “We have a family atmosphere here. We show compassion to our clients. We like to have fun here. People come in and their life is crummy — that’s life for our people.”

The bank offers a play area for children, a resource board with support agency information and a thank you board that displays pictures and notes of gratitude sent in by the clients and their children.

Jordan says she is excited about the growth she has seen in the three years she has been director at the Mustard Seed, and hopes the ministry can continue to serve the needs of the area people. “Thank you,” says Jordan, “to the people who have supported us from the beginning. Without their support we couldn’t do what we’re doing. … We’re expanding staff pickup and community awareness, but we need to expand donations, too.”

Tax deductible donations of large furniture items, kitchen items, bedding, especially twin size, and knick-knacks can be dropped off at the new location Monday though Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jordan asks no one leave donations outside of business hours for sanitation reasons. Pickup is available three times each week according to zip code areas. Donated items must be clean, in working order and animal hair free to minimize possible allergic reactions by clients.

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