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.
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.