Recycling furniture for households in need

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In 2010, when her two daughters were nearing college age, Jackie Craig began staging homes to be sold by her friend Beth Smoot, a broker associate at Fonville Morrisey.

Craig found many people selling homes were reluctant to part with furniture and other household items and, if they were willing to let go, often did not what to do with those belongings.

As a long-time volunteer for JobStart, a partnership of the Presbyterian Church and state Division of Prisons that supports women getting out of prison, Craig also understood a big challenge those women faced was finding furnishings to start a new home.

The solution was The Green Chair Project, an effort she and Smoot founded to collect donated furniture and distribute it to people recovering from crisis.

Operating with an annual budget of nearly $500,000, three full-time and three part-time employees, and over 1,000 volunteers, the Raleigh nonprofit has provided 25,000 items of furniture or household goods for 1,000 households, or nearly 3,000 individuals, roughly 80 percent of them women and children.

“We’re giving people a meaningful way to put their old items to good use here in our community and keeping them out of the landfill,” says Craig, who serves as executive director.

The effort initially stored donated furniture in a closet and then a classroom at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, where co-founders Craig and Smoot are members, and later occupied 1,100-square feet of borrowed space at Building Together Ministries and then 3,000 square feet of rented space in the former Carolina Custom Golf building on Capital Boulevard.

It now is based in the 27,000-square-foot building on Capital Boulevard that it leases from its former occupant, Alfred Williams & Co.

Each week, through appointments coordinated by 55 partner agencies focusing on issues ranging from homelessness, domestic violence and incarceration to mental health and disaster relief, individuals from four to eight households visit The Green Chair Project.

The agencies pay a $25 referral fee, and households contribute $50 to $250, depending on how much furniture and other items the household needs and can afford. Each household gets one visit only to furnish their home.

In return, an individual or family gets “points” to spend, with the point system representing “a fair way to ration the furniture and provide the dignity of choice,” Craig says.

After a brief orientation in a “family room” that features a large dollhouse showcasing the types of furniture and other items available for each room of a house, clients tour the showroom. In sections of the showroom, each devoted to a different room of a house, visitors can select from pre-arranged sets of furniture and from packets containing items they might need for that room.

Donors can drop off furniture and other items at The Green Chair Project, which also has partnerships with four moving companies that will pick up donated furniture for a discounted fee, and with one company that will deliver it for free, if needed, to households that participate.

Volunteers ranging from high school students to senior citizens sort and wash donated items, which are stored in rooms allocated, respectively, to each section of the showroom.

As its charity project in 2014, the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County transformed what had been the break room at The Green Chair Project into a washing station for cleaning donated dishes and household items, and also created a new break room for volunteers and staff.

Through a partnership with the Wake County Public School System and two bedding stores, The Green Chair Project has provided mattresses for about 100 children who have no beds, and aims to provide 200 mattresses in 2015.

And when tornadoes swept through Raleigh in April 2011, the Salvation Army of Wake County turned to The Green Chair Project to serve as a hub for distributing furniture and household items to hundreds of families left homeless by the storm.

The nonprofit generates income through contributions and grants from individuals, foundations and the city of Raleigh, and an annual gala, as well as four retail sales a year for the public that account for up to one-third of its annual budget.

While The Green Chair Project has grown significantly in just five years, Craig says, its plan now is to focus on strengthening its programs with partners “to better serve Wake County and put more families in beds and homes.”