Sometimes your job involves moving legislation. Sometimes, it’s moving bureaus.
Jenn McAdoo has done both. She is the new executive director of Furniture Friends, a Portland nonprofit that gives furniture to people who need it. After three years of coordinating the roughly 200 volunteers that donate their time with the organization, McAdoo was named its first executive director in October. Before coming to work for Furniture Friends, she had a career as an environmental lobbyist with a government consulting firm Friends of the Earth, and as youth and social justice director for First Universalist Church in Yarmouth.
“I guess you could say community engagement is the thread that runs through my career,” she said.
The Portland-based group accepts donations of gently used furniture, which is stored in a warehouse on Saunders Way and eventually delivered to clients. McAdoo said she has been thanked for furniture deliveries in multiple ways by grateful recipients, many of whom don’t speak English.
“Some have shown their gratitude by singing for us, praying for us, or giving us cookies or cards, or inviting us back,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling work.”
Q: Who is Furniture Friends serving and how do you find them?
A: We serve people without the financial resources to purchase furniture on their own, including people with disabilities, veterans, people struggling with homelessness, women and children fleeing domestic abuse and immigrant populations as well. We work with about 100 social service agencies and rely on those social service providers to refer clients to us. Schools, churches, shelters all refer people to us.
Q: How significant is the need?
A: In 2015, Furniture Friends was able to provide furniture for 320 households. We anticipate this year, we might serve 400 – we’ve already surpassed last year’s number. And there are over 100 households on our waiting list.
Q: That must be hard for the people on the list.
A: We usually find that clients are understanding. Just the promise of getting a bed or a dining room table keeps them hopeful. It may take a couple of months between the referral and delivery of their furniture, but they are patient.
Q: What’s the process after you get a referral?
A: We typically visit clients in their homes and assess their needs. Then we try to give them the opportunity to choose from our inventory – it’s more respectful that way. You know, you might be a fan of stripes, while I prefer florals. If they can’t, we have a list and do the best we can. If they have the resources to pick up the furniture, they come to the warehouse. But if not, we make arrangements for delivery.
Q: Are there certain items you just can’t keep in stock?
A: Lamps. And beds and bureaus – they’re all hard to keep in stock. But we’re always in need of essential household furniture – sofas, kitchen tables, chairs. It all comes and goes.
Q: Are there any plans to expand into other household items like pots and pans or appliances?
A: We only have the capacity to deal with furniture right now. But if we get permanent warehouse space (the current space is donated), we’d like to include microwaves, toasters, bedding, dishes, silverware – it’s definitely in the vision for the future.
Q: I saw that your board has created some part-time positions to help expand the organization. Is there other support?
A: Well, clearly the need in the community has outpaced our capacity, and the board was trying to tackle how we can develop the infrastructure so we can be sustainable. This summer they created the executive director position and there’s a full-time operations director and three part-time positions. We’ve been blessed with getting good support from foundations in the area and a lot of individuals support. Additionally, we log about 2,000 hours of donated service from about 200 volunteers. We get a lot of community support from high school students working on community service requirements. We are very lucky, but we can always use more help from volunteers, and are very grateful for financial contributions. Those gifts help us continue to pay the rent and put gas in the delivery van.
Business Editor Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at: