Monday, September 7, 2009

Refugee furniture tip

It's been a while since I've actually written anything about how to manage a furniture program at a refugee center or other not-for-profit. This is a shame as I frequently become sidetracked with whining about the mismanagement of these places.

To provide some mature balance, here's a quote I received from a friend the other day urging me to retain perspective.:

"Clearly you did not spend your 30s hanging out with do-gooders in their twenties. This is completely what I would expect from an organization like the refugee center. The only problem for me is when someone evil insinuates themselves into the chaos and robs and thieves while no one is looking."

Yup. Alas, perhaps the entire thing is just a sense of unrealistic expectations on my part. Then again, I do think there's something wrong when an NGO whose CEO makes approximately $200,000 a year puts someone in charge of a programming affecting the lives of hundreds of people and continues to do so long after it becomes obvious that problems are developing due to mismanagement. Then again, I'm often known for being unrealistic, which perhaps explains why I was working there in the first place.

But back to the furniture, here's a very important tip.

When accepting furniture for donation make sure you have the supplies you need to keep the parts together. This means masking tape and zip lock bags. When you get, for instance, a bed that is put together with bolts and fasterners and has a disassembleable frame, then take it apart, put all the small pieces in zip lock bags and masking tape the bags to the larger pieces. Then take the large pieces and wrap them around a few times with the masking tape several times. Make sure that it's strong enough to last.

The difference between usable furniture and clutter-junk is that with the first one all the pieces are in a place where you can find them.

When I started at the refugee center, our bed collection looked like a pile of tinker toys scattered all over a corner of the floor. Not only was it difficult to figure out which pieces of beds went with one another, but even after you did, you often found yourself unable to find the nuts, bolts, wheels and other fasteners that held them together. In many cases they did not even exist, having been lost long ago, and thus you had to make frequent runs to the hardware store often while trying to guess what sort of bolts one actually needed.

Avoid this problem. When you get a piece of furniture, handle it once. Handle it right. Put all the pieces, big and small, together into one unit with masking tape and zip-lock bags.

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