North Side furniture bank volunteers help turn living spaces into homes – Tribune-Review

Keith Bittel lifts a heavy load while delivering furniture to families in need around the Pittsburgh area.

But he says it’s nothing compared to the burden he removes from the lives of those he assists.

Bittel, 42, of Banksville on June 20 brought a team from Wallace Memorial Presbyterian Church in Green Tree to Off the Floor Pittsburgh, a furniture bank on Pittsburgh’s North Side, to load a truck full of chairs, tables and couches.

“From a faith perspective, you want to reach out to people in need,� Bittel said. “As a Christian, I think that’s something you need to do. In this organization, you’re meeting people at a basic level of need: shelter and furnishings.

“When you have a 12-year-old boy who’s thrilled to get a girl’s bed because he’s been sleeping on the floor for two months, that’s why you do it.�

Robert Myers has been executive director of Off the Floor Pittsburgh for four years. The organization was founded by Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in 2004.

“Instead of boxes and cans of food, we deal in tables, chairs, beds and dressers,� Myers said. �That’s our mission: to help families who would need help with basic furniture assistance who can’t afford furniture.�

Myers said used furniture for a family of four typically costs $1,500 to $1,800 at a thrift store. His clients receive about $1,000 worth of furniture at no cost.

The organization partners with about 28 agencies — including Mon Yough Community Services in McKeesport, Catholic charities, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh and Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania — to screen and refer clients.

One or two trucks of furniture deliver 2,000-plus pounds of merchandise every Saturday to 25 to 30 families each month.

Myers said priority clients include fire and domestic abuse victims and homeless veterans.

“A lot of times, these guys will move from homelessness, living in a shelter, living under a bridge, into an apartment of their own, but there’s no furniture,� he said.

“You just have a roof over your head. You still consider yourself homeless because it’s not home, it’s just a roof.

“In some cases, you’re better in a shelter because you have towels for shower, a bed with blankets. Now you’re sleeping on a floor. It might be carpeted, but you might be sleeping on a floor until you get that furniture.�

Myers, 56, of Castle Shannon said it’s important to get children who have been victims of domestic abuse out of a shelter.

“A shelter for those kids is not the best place. It’s a safe haven from the abuse, but they’re in there with other people who’ve been in the same situation as them. That’s not the kind of environment they need to stay in long-term.�

Off the Floor’s stops in Beechview, Bloomfield, Wilkinsburg and East Liberty on June 20 included helping the organization’s 1,500th family.

Bittel said he began to realize the social injustice present in the world during a Habitat for Humanity mission trip to Guatemala in 1995.

When he returned, he vowed to fight it in any way he could.

“Now, Off the Floor Pittsburgh affords me the opportunity to express my faith in a way that combats the injustices created by poverty, domestic abuse and prejudice,� he said.

David Mayernik Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.


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