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Monday, August 20, 2012

Bugged


Ever wonder why we post needs for furniture on the Benevolent site? If you’re anything like me, when you moved into your first apartment, you made several trips to local thrift stores to find things like upholstered chairs, recliners, padded kitchen chairs, and couches. It might not have looked like a million dollars, but it served the purpose and it made our apartments feel like home.


Maria “has been sharing a two-bedroom mobile house with her two sisters, their five children, her stepfather and her mother,” says Sizzy West, Maria’s Home Visitor.  Now this young mom has succeeded in moving herself and her daughter into their own apartment and seeks our help in getting the funds she needs to buy furniture for her first-ever living room.  We might wonder why she needs to buy it new, rather than at a thrift store.


There is one simple answer: the reality of bed bugs. No, Maria does NOT have bed bugs, but they are the reason she can’t buy upholstered furniture from a thrift store.


Chicago has been one of the nation’s top cities in bed bug infestation in the last few years – not an honor we relish. Whenever we hear news stories or read articles about how to protect ourselves from bed bugs, they inevitably contain a sentence like this one from Dateline on NBC:
Do not buy used furniture (especially bedding items or upholstered items), or at least do not bring them into your home until you, or a competent expert, have inspected them carefully for any signs of bed bugs.”


For a struggling earner, this turns the furnishing of a new apartment into a significant expense. It’s no longer a safe option for someone in a situation like Maria’s to purchase a couch from the local thrift store or to accept a contributed or hand-me-down mattress or padded chair.


Nonprofits that might once have accepted donations of furniture to help their newly-housed clients settle in have entirely stopped accepting these contributions. One news story reported: “Most agencies no longer accept donated beds or mattresses to resell or provide to clients in need.” So for Maria new furniture is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.


It would be easy for us to misunderstand someone who, like Maria, asks for help with furniture, and to quietly doubt the validity of her need without speaking up and questioning it. Things have really changed since I bought those tattered green armchairs and that well-worn brown couch back in the 1990s.


This is yet another example of the ways in which the small things can make a big difference.


- megan kashner
  founder & ceo
  Benevolent