Volunteer Spencer Mitchell, 17, of Kennebunk carries a chair into Carmel Mambu’s apartment. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Christina Biloghe smiled at the bright yellow truck pulling up to her building on Sherman Street in Portland. She was due to give birth any day, and she had spent the final weeks of her pregnancy with nothing more comfortable to sit on than a kitchen chair. But on this Friday, the truck door rolled up to reveal something just for her.

Biloghe, 29, smiled and rested her hands on her belly.

“I will go sit in my new chair and wait for my baby,” Biloghe said.

A soft white armchair and a rocker with a yellow-and-gray cushion came to Biloghe from Furniture Friends, a nonprofit that gives donated furniture to people who otherwise could not afford it. This organization started 10 years ago and recently hit an important milestone: 10,000 people served. Last year, they set a new record for the number of households that received furniture (731).

“We see what it means for people to struggle with basic household necessities,” said Jenn McAdoo, Furniture Friends executive director.

The organization’s clients, she said, include immigrants who fled homes in other countries, people who have been living outside for years, families with young children, senior citizens on fixed incomes, survivors of domestic violence and people in recovery.


The most popular items are beds, but the Furniture Friends warehouse is crammed full. There are mattresses, used couches – even a couple still wrapped in plastic from a local furniture store – a shelf full of lamps, a row of dressers that came from a hotel, a section of armchairs, wooden stools and rockers.

These items have all been donated, but the nonprofit sets a high standard for the furniture that cycles in and out of its door. They do not want anything too large for apartments, stained or really worn, full of pet hair, easily breakable or infested with bed bugs.

“We won’t take your grandmother’s china cabinet or something that the cat has torn to shreds,” McAdoo said. “We’re looking for practical items for our clients, who are generally living in small apartments.”

From left, volunteer Spencer Mitchell, 17, of Kennebunk; warehouse helper Colin Smith-Hoopes, 17, of Portland; and operations manager Bobby Mosher load furniture into a truck for delivery at Furniture Friends warehouse. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

On a recent day in the warehouse, volunteer coordinator Tabarek Kadhim held a clipboard, checking items off her list. Operations manager Bobby Mosher and his crew of volunteers loaded them into the waiting truck.

Kadhim, 21, was born in Iraq and spent most of her life in Jordan before she came to the United States. She attended Deering High School and first heard about Furniture Friends years ago when her mother complimented a friend’s new couch.

“It was in really good condition,” Kadhim said. “That really stuck with me. We do not give out things that we would not want ourselves. It’s very important to transform their house into a home.”


She is studying optometry in Boston and got this job through AmeriCorps. She hopes to return to Jordan to work as an eye doctor, but she likes that Furniture Friends aims to treat people with dignity in the same way that her medical training does.

“I feel like it would make me a better clinician,” she said.

On the warehouse floor at Furniture Friends, volunteer coordinator Tabarek Kadhim checks items off her list as volunteers load a truck for delivery. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When the truck was packed, McAdoo and Kadhim followed it to their first destination. William Elwell, 61, recently moved into the former St. Joseph’s Convent on Stevens Avenue, and much of his furniture did not fit in his new studio.

“I just wanted a comfortable chair to sit in and watch TV,” he said.

Furniture Friends accepts requests through caseworkers, not individuals. McAdoo said that’s because the organization is small, and they want to make sure people are connected with all of the services they might need. Elwell said he heard about Furniture Friends while he was calling around to find a lounge chair. A social worker submitted his request, and a couple months later, a couple of high schoolers carried a red recliner up to his door on the third floor.

Elwell has worked different jobs over the years – frozen food production, building maintenance, appliance repair – and is now disabled. He likes taking walks in his new neighborhood and then resting his knees while watching a movie. He has a collection of DVDs and watched “Unbroken” during his first weekend with the new recliner.


He gave both the movie and the chair succinct but positive reviews.

“A really good movie,” he said. And, “a nice, comfortable chair.”

Spencer Mitchell, 17, of Kennebunk and Joe Palma, 17, of Falmouth carry a chair into an apartment in Portland while making deliveries for Furniture Friends. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The yellow box truck headed toward Sherman Street, where Biloghe came downstairs to greet it. She and her husband came to the United States from Gabon. They lived in hotels for months before they moved into this apartment in August. They like the location – she can easily get to her medical appointments and buy groceries during the day.

They spent two weeks with just a bed, and Biloghe said her anxiety grew as her due date approached. They had nowhere else to sit or eat comfortably.

“Where can I sit with the baby?” she thought.

Christina Biloghe of Portland smiles as she talks with Furniture Friends executive director Jenn McAdoo after a chair was delivered to her home. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In early September, Furniture Friends delivered a dining room table and chairs, a crib and a couple of lamps. But the sofa they brought did not fit up the stairs, so the volunteers had to take it back to the warehouse. On this return trip, they brought the armchair and the rocker. Now, Biloghe and her husband are ready to welcome their baby, a girl who they plan to name Dove.


“I don’t want to stay at the hospital for very long,” she said. “I want to come back to our apartment. We will be safe here and comfortable.”

The yellow truck was still nearly full with one stop left: a building on Congress Street. Carmel Mambu moved into this apartment with her husband and four children six weeks ago. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mambu spoke to the Portland Press Herald through an interpreter. She said they were glad to have their own space after months in a hotel and the city’s family shelter.

“You have your freedom,” Mambu said in Lingala. “The children can play easy.”

They had only a thin mattress on the floor and a portable crib for 8-month-old Miracle. The rest of the space was bare. A caseworker had helped them request furniture, and it had finally arrived. The volunteers and staff from Furniture Friends made quick work unloading with the help of Carmel and her husband, Junior. Everyone carried mattresses, a dining table and a futon up the stairs. Celine, 8, sat her little brother on the couch as the living room filled with bookshelves and chairs.

“A happy baby,” McAdoo said, smiling at him.

Carmel Mambu sits on her family’s new couch with 8-month-old Miraco Mavezo and Celine Prospere Mavezo, 8, as Furniture Friends delivers to their home. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Ageno Cap is a human services counselor at the family shelter, and she often visits clients who have moved into apartments like this one. Many of them have nothing, she said, and Furniture Friends helps them get started in a new home. Cap said she tells families that this furniture is just the beginning – they will be able to buy their own things when they start working.

“They know that somebody is really caring for them instead of just leaving them on the floor,” she said.

Before they came to the United States, Mambu was a hairdresser with her own salon. Her husband was an electrician. She said they are still waiting for work permits so they can pursue their careers in their new city. She talked about picking out her own furniture someday, getting a TV and a radio for the living room, putting flowers on the table, and buying an apartment or a house instead of renting. But she said they are grateful for what they have received. A small sign hung on a window: “Enjoy the little things.”

“We feel we are home, even though we don’t have everything,” she said.

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