Hello, family and friends!
Though I had a lovely time celebrating Christmas and ringing in the New Year with friends and family, December has been the most challenging month of my service year thus far, chiefly due to the mass influx of applications for furniture at the start of the holiday season. Before the month began, the December schedule was already crammed with appointments for clients to come in and select their furniture (the Furniture Bank serves forty to fifty families a week), so when clients not already on the schedule came through the front door hoping to furnish their homes before Christmas, we had to inform them they would have to wait until January. At least twice a day I spoke to potential clients in person or over the phone imploring me to make an exception, and all I could offer was an apology.
One day a military veteran who had been scheduled for his appointment in early January told me over the phone he desperately needed furniture before Christmas; he had been sleeping on the streets for the past nine months, suffered from a back injury, and had children who needed mattresses to be able to sleep comfortably. He stressed that he had not ended up in his situation because he was a bad person, but because of factors outside of his control. In turn, I stressed that I believed him and wished I could help, but unfortunately I could not.
“If I could just come by and pick up a mattress for my kids,” he said. “Is there any way I could just do that? That’s all I need. Please.”
One of the lessons I’ve learned at the Furniture Bank is that, no matter how determined I am to accommodate each client’s needs, it’s impossible to attain this ideal. Soft spots and wrenched heartstrings cannot interfere with an adherence to guidelines and a process that treats each family equitably. Like many other people who called over the month of December, I heard the hope in the man’s voice wane after I repeated that there were no other options available for him. Before hanging up the phone, he sighed, “I understand. Thanks anyway.”
The song, “Someday at Christmas” by Stevie Wonder was playing on the radio, and I found myself feeling sullen and skeptical of the song’s quixotic vision of a world where “men won’t be boys, playing with bombs like kids play with toys” and where there will be “no hungry children, no empty hand.” The front office was festooned with Christmas decorations, with colorful lights strung along the walls and a Christmas tree propped up under the welcome board. Looking at the presents wrapped in glittery paper and bows under the tree, really only empty boxes, I thought about how the merry décor belied the reality of Christmas: many people are lonely and grieving, or struggling to play the role of Santa Claus for their kids, or waking up Christmas morning on a hardwood floor or on a bench outside in the bitter cold.
While it was difficult to turn clients away over the course of December, the Furniture Bank was not impervious to the joy of the season. Lit by the Christmas spirit of generosity, Buckhead church, a local congregation that serves the Furniture Bank on a regular basis, donated a ton of brand new bed sheets, comforters, and boxes of kitchenware, and the families who were able to furnish their residences before the holidays seemed especially thrilled to pick out the couches, chairs, dressers and tables that would transform their apartments or houses into cozier homes.
We received a Christmas card from one family who we all remembered well because they were so eager for their furniture they had arrived at 7am for an 11am appointment. As they were waiting to go back in the warehouse, the front office manager moved them to tears with his story of how he himself had received furniture from the Furniture Bank. They were such a sweet couple, with two little twin girls who kept trying to hug one another and twirl around in circles at the same time, giggling when one tripped over the other’s boots.
The family was gushingly grateful; on top of sending a card, they also called the Furniture Bank twice after their appointment just to say thank you. I made a copy of the Christmas card they sent to slip inside my journal so I wouldn’t forget them. They wrote:
“We would like to sincerely thank you for being so kind to our family during our financial hardship. Especially [the front office manager] with the Furniture Bank for his inspiring testimony. Also Mrs. Martha for having patience with us and remembering the chairs! The deliverymen who came on the first day of snow in Atlanta really touched our hearts. Your act of kindness goes along way! We wish you all a very merry Christmas and happy New Year.”
Because December was a tough month, their appreciation of the Furniture Bank’s services meant a lot to me, lifting my spirits when I was beginning to feel disheartened. While they were singing our praises, I don’t think they had any idea how much of a blessing they were to us.