Home Finding Happiness Chicago Furniture Bank – Where Your Couch Does Good

Chicago Furniture Bank – Where Your Couch Does Good

by Ali Wenzke
Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Griffin Amdur, the Director of the Chicago Furniture Bank, walked into a single’s mom unfurnished apartment. An air mattress rested on the floor while two twin toddlers ran around the space and a newborn baby cried. “It was crazy,” Griffin explains. “Then, we brought up all the furniture.” Griffin and his business partners, Andrew Witherspoon & James McPhail, carried up the furniture piece by piece. By the time they placed down the last end table, the mom had made the beds, put her twins to sleep, and she sat nursing her baby. The mom of three created a home for her family.

Since it opened in August 2018, the Chicago Furniture Bank has furnished 260 homes to help the formerly homeless, victims of domestic violence, and people with mental or physical disabilities.  With more than 110 non-profit partners, the Chicago Furniture Bank helps people in need by furnishing up to seven homes a day.

I had the great fortune to speak with the Director and Co-Founder of the Chicago Furniture Bank, Griffin Amdur, to learn more about the organization and how we can help.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

James McPhail, from left, Andrew Witherspoon, and Griffin Amdur created the Chicago Furniture Bank.

Photo provided by the Chicago Furniture Bank

 

Hi, Griffin! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.

Thank you for helping spread the word about the Chicago Furniture Bank.

Tell me about how the Chicago Furniture Bank works.

First, we go around Chicago picking up donated furniture. Then, our non-profit partners sign up for an appointment slot.  There’s an appointment every hour. During their appointed time, the case worker brings the client into our 5,000 square foot warehouse to go shopping. The client can chose from a selection of twelve couches, twelve to fifteen armchairs, and an assortment of tables. Finally, with a roll of tape and a Sharpie, the client handpicks a furniture package which includes all the furniture that serves to start a home.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Clients can choose their furniture package.

What’s included in the furniture package?

The furniture package includes a bed for everyone in the family. The client can pick out a couch, an arm chair, a dresser, a kitchen table, a bedside table, artwork, a mirror, small appliances and more. Clients receive about $1200 worth of furniture for $50.


It’s important to realize that a home isn’t a home if you don’t have a bed to sleep on or a table to eat at. We are trying to make sure that people are sleeping in beds.

Griffin Amdur

How does the furniture get to the client’s home?

Clients usually bring a U-Haul truck and we load up their truck. We also offer curbside delivery for $150 and we deliver it to the client’s home. Another option is in-home installation for $250. About 50% of clients choose self-haul and 50% choose delivery. Deliveries are nice because they give people who don’t have a driver’s license a way to get their furniture home. The non-profits we work with often cover the cost of furniture.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Various delivery options are available for clients.

Photo provided by the Chicago Furniture Bank

How does the Chicago Furniture Bank help other non-profit organizations?

Some of our non-profits, like Renaissance Social Services, have allocated $1000 per home for furniture for their clients. Previously, they would buy new furniture. They could buy a bed and maybe a dresser. We provide five to ten times that amount of furniture for a fraction of the cost. Therefore, the non-profits can allocate their funds to other services like transportation.

We provide value by giving furniture to those who would otherwise be sleeping on the floor. We stop furniture from ending in landfills, and we employ people from organizations like Cara Chicago, Chicago CRED, and UCAN Chicago.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

The Chicago Furniture Bank is dedicated to helping families in need.

Photo provided by the Chicago Furniture Bank

When people declutter for their move, they often want to get rid of furniture. How can we donate furniture to the Chicago Furniture Bank?

It’s easy. Go to the “Donate” tab on our website and submit the pick-up request form. We ask three questions:

  1. Where are you located?
  2. What are you willing to donate?
  3. When are you available?

Is there any furniture you don’t take?

There’s a list on our website, but we don’t take china cabinets or large entertainment centers. However, we do take most furniture like mattresses and box springs as well as household items. Since we are not reselling the items for profit, we are not that picky. If the item is of lesser quality, we put a red sticker on it and the client can expand their furniture prize for free. It’s how we manage inventory and many clients typically have nothing at home, so they get more items.

How do you manage the cost of operating the Chicago Furniture Bank?

We ask for a suggested donation when we pick up furniture. Since we are sending two guys and a truck out to pick up furniture, we ask for $100 to $150 to pick up the items. This is significantly cheaper than junk removal services. About 95% of people who donate furniture understand this cost, because they know we’re basically giving the furniture away for free. They understand that we are providing a service of moving unwanted furniture from the homes.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

A home isn’t a home without a bed to sleep on.

How quickly can the Chicago Furniture Bank pick up furniture if I called today?

Three to five days. We can come pick it up in three to five days at this time. Right now we have a one month wait list for the non-profit clients. There’s a huge demand and we really need more furniture.

How did you come up with the idea to create the Chicago Furniture Bank?

After my junior year in college, I was at my grandpa’s house during the summer. I looked at his antiques and saw an old player’s piano with some ivory keys missing and fancy china around the house. All this stuff was basically worthless, but it was worth a ton of money back in the day. I talked to my dad about it and I started looking into the secondary market for used furniture. I realized there’s not much value in selling used furniture.

Then, I stumbled across Pathways to Housing, the Philadelphia furniture bank. It’s a really successful furniture bank in Philadelphia, and we later modeled our organization after it. They furnished 400 homes in a year with an operating loss of less than $20,000.  It made me think how incredible it was that they could do so much good for not much money. There was no reason there shouldn’t be a furniture bank in Chicago.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

If you no longer need your chair or couch, please consider donating it to those in need.

How did you start the Chicago Furniture Bank?

I returned back to college [The University of Pennsylvania] in the fall and talked to my friends, Andrew and James. They believed in the mission, and we spent four to five months writing up a business plan. We proposed it to Penn and were lucky enough to win a $100,000 President Engagement Prize, an award given to Penn seniors to make a difference in the community.

Initially, Andrew, James, and I did all the labor ourselves, eight to ten hours a day of lifting furniture around. After the Chicago Tribune article came out, more non-profits and donors learned about us. A philanthropist gave us $100,000 to increase our warehouse as well as hire labor. This allowed us to increase our capacity, which was amazing.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

How do you envision the future of the Chicago Furniture Bank? Do you see it expanding to other cities?

The goal is to do it in other cities. There are about 80 furniture banks in the country, and they range in size. Some are run out of churches and completely volunteer-based. Some are massive. Bridging, the one in Minneapolis, is the largest one in the country. They’ve donated to over 90,000 families since 1987. There’s one in Columbus and another in Cleveland. Portland has a large one.


There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a furniture bank in every city.

Griffin Amdur

Is there anything else you want readers to know?

We really need more furniture. If you have furniture that you don’t want, please consider donating it.

I cannot thank you enough for chatting with me and for making such a difference in our community.

Thanks, Ali.


For more information about the Chicago Furniture Bank, please visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Chicago Furniture Bank - Where Your Couch Does Good. The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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