Apr. 16

Longtime Volunteers Help People in Need Make Houses into Homes

During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the impact of volunteer service in our communities, and recognize extraordinary individuals who are at the center of social change – like Daily Point of Light Award honorees Barbara and Ira Smith. Read their story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

In the '90s, Barbara and Ira Smith began collecting household goods to donate to families in need. More than two decades later, their project has blossomed into Household Goods Inc. — and the couple still volunteer six days each week.

It all started in 1990 when Barbara and Ira Smith heard about a family that had fled to Massachusetts from their home in San Salvador due to violence, and were in need of furniture for their apartment.

The Smiths put an ad in their church bulletin seeking donations to help the family, and received more furniture than was needed. They contacted their community’s local housing authority, to offer the extra items to its low-income clients. “We thought once all the stuff was gone, we’d be done,” said Barbara. But they were just getting started.

The housing authority kept calling, with additional needs for their clients. Barbara and Ira continued asking members of their church for items, more donations came in, and so the cycle continued.

Before long, people were just leaving donations at the Smiths’ house. They started storing items in their carport, driveway, yard and cellar – anywhere they could find space. Eventually, Barbara and Ira had to expand and began using their church’s basement and satellite locations.

Now 86 years old, Ira and Barbara both volunteer at Household Goods three hours a day, six days a week.

When Ira retired in 1995, the couple made helping provide furniture and home goods to families in need their new full-time job. They bought an orange truck, which Ira said would make people “see us coming down the street,” and started picking up and delivering items when needed.

By 1999, their project had blossomed into Household Goods Inc., a nonprofit offering a full range of donated furniture and household items to help people in need make a home, free of charge.

Household Goods has grown from 50 volunteers to 850 volunteers and four employees, and the donated furniture and home goods – once stored at Barbara and Ira’s home – now occupy a 20,000 square-foot building. Each year, hundreds of volunteers serve more than 30,000 hours with the organization, which works with more than 300 social service agencies supporting families throughout eastern and central Massachusetts. Household Goods serves people in need, including veterans, families living on minimum wage, those emerging from homelessness or fleeing abuse, people living with illness or disability, or those who have lost their homes or belongings in a fire.

According to the Smiths, Household Goods is more than just a building filled with furniture, furnishings and home goods. Barbara and Ira have created a welcoming environment where people who are getting back on their feet can personally make their selections with dignity. A personal volunteer escort guides them through the building to assist and offer friendly support. “It’s like a big store,” said Barbara, “but the items are free.”

“The Household Goods difference is that we provide a friendly and happy shopping experience, and it’s a way to bring the community together,” said Ira.

“The community sees the direct benefit of its work and wants to get involved to help,” Barbara added.

More than two decades later, 86-year-olds Ira and Barbara both volunteer at Household Goods three hours a day, six days a week.

When asked what their future goals are for Household Goods, Ira quipped, “You haven’t seen anything yet.” Barbara says this need is not unique to only their community. They hope more furniture bank models like Household Goods will open throughout the country.

The Difference They Make

Kraig Herd’s clients at Pinestreet Inn are just some of the many beneficiaries of Barbara and Ira’s leadership at Household Goods. Kraig helps men and women go from homelessness into housing. He says once a housing unit is found, the problem his clients often face is a lack of furniture. And, that is where Household Goods steps in to help.

“We bring our clients with us to Household Goods and they are able to pick out whatever they want. They are able to make their own selections,” said Kraig. He sees his clients enlightened by picking out a chair or dishes that may remind them of their childhood as they start their life in a new apartment.

“Household Goods isn’t just furniture,” said Kraig. “It is the welcoming staff and volunteers. You can’t find people that good. Barbara and Ira lead by example. It takes a village and they are all great people.”

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This post was written by Karen Cohen.

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