Furnishings store will sustain furniture bank
The growing demand for furniture at the former Spokane Community Warehouse led Catholic Charities Spokane to start Furnishings for Hope as a retail outlet to support the Catholic Charities - Spokane Furniture Bank, the new name for the community warehouse.
Inga Weber listens carefully to people at Furnishings for Hope.
Furnishings for Hope sells middle- to higher-end used furniture, antiques and mid-range new furniture priced to appeal to people in the neighborhood and people who commute north and south on Monroe.
In early January, they opened the Furnishings for Hope store at 1905 N. Monroe in the former Stewart’s Hardware building, built in 1912.
There will be a grand opening at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, with Catholic Bishop of Spokane Blase Cupich offering a blessing and the store providing some discounts.
The names and logos of the store and furniture bank are similar so people see the connection.
The Spokane Community Warehouse opened in 2009 in a room in the former YWCA and grew until it became a stand-alone program under Catholic Charities. In 2013, it was renamed the Furniture Bank.
It works with 24 social service agencies. Case managers determine needs and refer people to the program, which is able to meet about 70 percent of the needs.
In 2013, the furniture bank served 623 households, providing beds, couches, dressers, tables, chairs and kitchenware.
Three people are part of a team making this ministry possible.
• Lesley-Anne Stormo, who runs Catholic Charities - Spokane Furniture Bank, at 919 E. Trent, began working at St. Margaret’s Shelter in 2011.
• Inga Weber, who manages the store, brings experience from working in and operating a family dry cleaning business for 33 years. She and her husband closed the business in 2012.
• Jim Nicks, who retired as assistant police chief for the City of Spokane, is operations director and program director connecting the two ventures.
Lesley-Anne said that after St. Vincent de Paul closed, Homeless Coalition agencies housing people realized that when they found permanent housing for clients, there were no affordable options for furnishing the houses. St. Margaret’s Shelter agreed to develop a furniture bank, where some people could bring donations and others could pick them up for free.
Lesley-Anne began working at St. Margaret’s to develop a vocational rehabilitation program so that once people were off the street, they would have income to pay for their housing.
“Our goal was to help homeless women develop job skills before they moved from transitional to permanent housing, so they would be self-sufficient,” she said.
She taught skills to prepare people for what employers seek in hiring and to build self awareness of how to keep jobs, such as to have a plan B for child care. At St. Margaret’s Vinegar Flats Community Garden and the The Pearl Clothing Boutique, she could offer only a few women skills in gardening and customer service.
With the growing demand for the furniture, there was need for more staff at the furniture bank so it became another site for women to gain job skills.
“For the furniture bank to be self-sustaining, we then decided to develop the retail store, Furnishings for Hope, using income from that to help cover the costs of the Furniture Bank,” said Lesley-Anne, who grew up in Wisconsin, studied English in Michigan, worked in California and came to Spokane to be a residence director at Whitworth University in 2002. In 2009, she completed a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Gonzaga University.
Inga, who grew up and raised her family in Spokane, has been involved in the community and St. Thomas More Parish through scouting, Childbirth and Parenting Assistance (CAPA) and its diaper drives and baby showers.
“Because dry cleaning is a dying industry with people buying mostly wash-and-wear clothing,” she said, she and her husband decided to close their business.
Aware that “there are people in need all over the community all the time,” she was looking for a ministry that would connect people with resources.
Meanwhile, Jim was looking for someone to run the store and knew of her experience.
“Both the furniture bank and retail store offer more than furnishings. We offer a human touch. We listen to people’s stories,” said Inga. “When people come in, I listen to what they have to say to understand what they are looking for. Because they see the Catholic Charities’ logo, some share their stories. I listen to their needs and suggest where they may find help.
“In selling furniture, we hold inventory longer than some stores, because people take time to think about buying furniture,” she said.
From her years in business, she brings skills in the behind-the-scenes factors of running a business—taxes and licenses—and interacting with customers as a pleasant, friendly person.
She greets people and listens to what they need and want.
“I have had to be educated on what I do not know about. In dry cleaning, I knew about different types of fabric,” she said. “In furniture, I am learning what makes for quality, durability and value.
“When my husband, David, and I concluded we needed to close the dry cleaning store, we did not know what would be next, but let “God direct our way to find jobs that fit us,” she said.
Jim sees the furnishings store and furniture bank as sister programs. He describes the store as “the economic engine to cover costs for long-term sustainability” of the furniture bank.
“Every day, about 50 people come into the store. As they learn about the furniture bank, many who buy furniture decide to donate their used furniture,” he said.
The store delivers new furniture and picks up donated furniture, said Jim, who served 30 years in law enforcement in Spokane, plus a year in Yakima and two years in Ephrata. He learned about the program through Catholic Charities’ executive director Rob McCann, who had interaction with the police department.
Jim, who grew up Methodist in Ephrata became Catholic when he married. He and his wife attend Mary Queen Catholic Church. He attended Washington State University, Central Washington University and Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command, and finished a degree in criminal justice administration in a distance-learning program at Columbia Southern University in Alabama 12 years ago. He also completed several courses in executive management.
“From my work with law enforcement, it is easy to become hardened about people and human nature, but with Catholic Charities I work with people in different situations—the worst and the best,” he said. “I appreciate serving individuals on a personal level.
“Faith affects how we conduct our business, interface with people and serve people. In law enforcement, I dealt with crises in the moment and may not have known a person’s long-term issues. Here, I build longer-term relationships and may see some end results,” he said.
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