James Edwards looked around the vast warehouse filled with used furniture and household items and made a beeline for a brown leather sofa.
“I really like that. It’s mahogany,” he said. And so the sofa was his.
He also picked out a floor lamp, mattress and box spring set, sheets and blankets, dishes, silverware and pots and pans.
Edwards, 39, who receives assistance from Rehabilitation Support Services for mental health issues, is moving into an unfurnished studio apartment on South Pearl Street after a hospitalization and other turmoil that left him without a place to live.
Browsing for an hour through the recently opened Capital Region Furniture Bank, a program created through the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society of Albany, Edwards found almost everything he needed for his new place. It didn’t cost him a dime.
“They have a lot of really good stuff here and it feels great that they helped me out,” Edwards said.
The Capital Region Furniture Bank held its grand opening Oct. 18 after four months of preparing rented warehouse space and picking up used furniture donations.
It’s the brainchild of Pete Newkirk, a longtime HATAS board member. He retired nearly three years ago after selling a family business, Newkirk Products of Albany, which produced printed materials for the health care and financial industries. It had about 300 employees and $50 million in annual sales.
How to donate
The Capital Region Furniture Bank is located at 5 Anderson Drive in Albany. To make a donation of furniture or household items in good condition, contact Jack Beckett at 518-612-2265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
He volunteered to drive the Homeless Action Committee outreach van, which delivers sandwiches, blankets and clothing to people on the streets.
“You get a different perspective from the street level,” Newkirk said. He was moved by heartbreaking scenes of watching homeless people carrying clothing in plastic garbage bags into an empty apartment. “There wasn’t a stick of furniture inside these places and that made me feel terrible,” said Newkirk, an Albany native who still lives in the city.
In retirement, Newkirk used his business acumen to begin removing obstacles that homeless people face.
There was a gap in Albany after a Catholic Charities free furniture program shut down three years ago. Schenectady Home Furnishings, formed by Church Women United in 1968, offers a similar service in Schenectady.
“You’d be amazed by how much good furniture would get thrown into the landfill if we didn’t pick it up,” said the Furniture Bank’s program director, Jack Beckett, a retired insurance agent who ran the Catholic Charities program. He recruited several former Catholic Charities volunteers. He’s picked up furniture from college campus housing undergoing renovation and from mattress manufacturers looking to get rid of unwanted inventory. They’ve also begun partnering with large chain stores that donate returned or outdated inventory.
“It’s nice to be part of something that helps give people a fresh start,” said Noreen Thomas of Delmar, who volunteers with her husband, John.
“Seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they find what they need in the warehouse makes it all worthwhile,” said volunteer Fred Pigeon, a retired high school teacher from Rensselaer.
Warehouse coordinator Taurus Whitehead is a HATAS success story. The 49-year-old Brooklynite took college courses while in prison from Liz Hitt, HATAS executive director. He was released last spring, spent a few months in a halfway house, and now has his own apartment in Albany, works full-time and is completing an associate degree in business administration at Hudson Valley Community College.
“You have to want to change,” said Whitehead, who overcame drug and alcohol addiction that led to a burglary conviction that landed him in prison. “It’s about avoiding the old lifestyle and discovering the drive and ambition to succeed. I’m proud that I’m now giving back to society that I once took from.”
email@example.com • 518-454-5623 • @PaulGrondahl