Hello, family and friends!
October was an eventful month; I celebrated my 23rd birthday, marched with Central Presbyterian Church in the gay pride parade, dressed up as a narwhal for Halloween, and helped set up for the Furniture Bank’s annual Bed Race, a fundraiser in which competing teams decorate twin beds on wheels and race them across a parking lot. Each bed had a different theme-one group of contestants wore Care Bear onesies and tied rainbow balloons to their beds, another wore Ninja Turtle costumes, and my favorite team dressed up as The Golden Girls, trying not to trip over their dresses or lose their wigs as they sprinted and pushed their bed to the finish line. The Bed Race champions had dressed up as Stars Wars characters, their team named “The Last Bedi.”
As I noted in my previous post, I’ve been working as a Young Adult Volunteer at the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta, helping individuals and families fleeing domestic violence, transitioning out of homelessness, or living with HIV/AIDS furnish their homes. During the day I answer phones at the front desk, welcome clients, and guide them through the warehouse as they shop for their furniture. I’ve also been helping the previously homeless veterans who participate in the Furniture Bank’s warehouse and truck-driving training program navigate online job applications. The veterans work at the Furniture Bank for eight weeks, loading and unloading trucks, hauling furniture donations around the warehouse, and fine-tuning their resumes. Afterwards the Furniture Bank pays for them to obtain either a forklift certification or a commercial truck-driving license so that they can graduate from the program with full-time employment.
Sorting and filing paperwork in the afternoons would be much more monotonous if not for the companionship of the front office manager, who was a part of the veteran intern program himself and often tells clients that he has been in their same shoes, having received furniture from the Furniture Bank for his own apartment eight years ago. He’s a jovial guy with dimples the size of quarter slots and a high-pitched hoot of a laugh that I can hear even when I’m in the back of the warehouse. Throughout the day he plays either the Billy Joel or George Benson Pandora Radio station on his desktop. When a song with a prominent bass line comes on, he’ll put his fist to his lips as though holding a mouthpiece and imitate the buzzy bopping of a sousaphone, then point to me and say, “that’s you, sousaphone-payer!” If I start singing along to a song he’ll provide annotations, letting me know when the song came out and what he and his friends were up to when it was popular. He owns a dachshund named Rufus who pads behind him wherever he goes and takes naps under the front desk, curled up next to the computer monitor. Rufus is a bashful dog and tense around clients, though in the mornings he likes to jump up and paw at my kneecaps, licking my arms while I pet him. For Halloween Rufus came dressed up as a shark.
When clients enter the Furniture Bank they see their names listed in dry erase marker on the welcome board by the front door. On the board, beside the place where we write the names of the clients who are coming in to select furniture, the front office manager has written, “Today is your day to be blessed!!!” Many of the clients I’ve worked with thus far are grateful for the service the Furniture Bank offers, some effusively so, though there have been a few clients who left disgruntled. Sometimes clients cannot find the particular type of, say, dresser or kitchen table they are looking for, other times they see a previous client has already tagged an item they wanted, and sometimes they arrive for their appointment too late to pick out the furniture themselves.
During my first couple of weeks working there I remember a woman with limbs slight as saplings and beads dangling loose from her sweater pleading, “Won’t you let me have another dresser for my grandbaby? We lost everything we have in a fire. You’re not gonna let me have another dresser for my grandbaby?” She looked like she had waded through decades of hardship and was at least three times my age. Though I was not authorized to bend the rules, I could not look into her wizened face and tell her “no” over and over as if I were speaking to a toddler. Such moments ignite a blazing consciousness of my privilege at the forefront of my mind. I feel its heat rise in my cheeks as I stand there checking off items on a clipboard, explaining that the amount of furniture clients receive varies according to the number of household members and that the Furniture Bank cannot guarantee a specific item of furniture will be in stock. I wonder why I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work as a volunteer for a year, while the clients on the other side of the clipboard are struggling to make a living and provide for their families. At times God seems to cast blessings with an air of capriciousness.
Despite difficult interactions with clients, there have been many uplifting moments. The Furniture Bank serves forty families a week, too many clients for me to write about all of them, so I’ll tell you about my most gratifying experience shopping with a client thus far:
To get to work, I ride the MARTA and then walk from the West End train station to the Furniture Bank, crossing a pair of railroad tracks along the way. One Friday there was a freight train stalled on the tracks, preventing pedestrians from crossing to the other side of the street. Several people had clotted together by the train, muttering to one another about how they would find a way across, some even daring to climb over the couplers linking the train cars. I watched a woman in a wheelchair hop out of her seat to follow suit, then hoist the wheelchair back over onto the other side (I later learned people have been killed this way, by the train jolting to life while they are mid-mount). There was a man shuffling his feet in the gravel by the tracks with his head hung, looking like he might break into tears. When I asked him where he was trying to go he told me he had been up since 4:30am he was so excited to get furniture from the Furniture Bank, and now the train was going to make him miss his appointment. He was in his seventies, walked with a limp and a cane, said he had been trying to get himself over to the other side of the train but no longer had the leg strength to do so. I told him I was a volunteer at the Furniture Bank and that he had no reason to worry; we could cross the intersection at the far end of the street and, though he would be a little late, there had been a cancellation that morning so he would still be able to pick out his furniture.
“Oh, please let them know I’m on my way,” he said. Though I had called to let the front office manager know we would both be late and assured the client repeatedly that we did not need to rush, he was intent on arriving as close to his appointment time as possible. As we walked he feverishly stamped his cane through the ragwort weeds along the side of the road, every so often drawing in enough breath to tell me how eager he was to get some furniture. He wore a red baseball cap with the words, “Jesus is my Boss” in cartoonish lettering across the front. At one point during his appointment the chorus of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” his cell phone’s ringtone, began to blast from his jeans pocket, but he was too excited about choosing a sofa to answer. He seemed to be over the moon, grinning wide as he strode through the warehouse and tagged pieces of furniture, claiming them as his own.
This was only one out of many instances in which I’ve realized how much the Furniture Bank means to clients, and I can’t wait to share more about this non-profit organization’s amazing work with you all. Love,