Jefferson Regional Foundation grant expands free furniture program in Mon Valley
A $65,000 grant from the Jefferson Regional Foundation will help nonprofit The Blessing Board expand its McKeesport operations in providing more free, secondhand furniture to Mon Valley families in need.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Rich Garland, executive director of The Blessing Board.
The Blessing Board, which first opened in a Penn Hills church in 2010, collects donated furniture from across Allegheny County and parts of Westmoreland, Butler and Beaver counties from residents looking to rid themselves of the items. There are varying pickup fees for the couches, chairs and beds they collect.
The organization then holds “days of blessing” at their centers, now located in McKeesport at 820 Market St. and Oakmont at 140 Pennsylvania Ave., where people in need can come get whatever furniture they want for free.
“These are people coming out of difficult circumstances in their life and many have found homes, but they can’t afford to furnish them,” Garland said.
Some end up sleeping on the floor because they can’t afford a bed, he said. That’s where The Blessing Board comes in. The organization takes what would otherwise be thrown out by one person and gives it to another.
They currently have two large box trucks that travel the region picking up furniture.
The need is there. While they get about 800 phone calls a month from people looking for furniture between the two locations, they can only help about 120 families each month.
“There’s quite a gap that we’re trying to fill,” Garland said.
With the funding from the Jefferson Regional Foundation, The Blessing Board plans to add 37 more appointments each month at the McKeesport location with the funds.
The grant also will help the organization develop stronger partnerships and expand its collection of donated furniture in the Mon Valley.
In Oakmont, the operations are larger, with 85 appointments a month. The site features a large warehouse with a furniture showroom where people can browse the inventory.
The goal is to make the process “very respectful and dignified” for those in need, Garland said.
With a much smaller space in McKeesport, they currently can help just 15 families on two Saturdays a month. The hope is to add another Saturday “day of blessing” and add weekday appointments on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The grant will allow The Blessing Board to add staff in McKeesport including a volunteer coordinator.
Katie Harley, volunteer coordinator in Oakmont, talks about the community connections the organization already has made in McKeesport. A goal of the grant is to grow those.
The McKeesport location also was able to undergo renovations, Harley said, to make it a more welcoming atmosphere for families receiving donations and volunteers alike. Volunteers logged over 400 hours of cleanup and painting. They installed new lighting, refurbished the bathrooms, cleaned the carpet and enlarged the showroom.
“It just looks like a completely new facility,” she said.
Jefferson Regional Foundation Executive Director Mary Phan-Gruber said furniture is a basic need.
“We’re hoping the McKeesport site really can serve the broader area here,” she said.
For more on The Blessing Board, visit blessingboard.org.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.