The Green Chair Project helps furnish homes for the needy

When Jackie Craig started staging people’s homes to put on the market five years ago, it became pretty clear, pretty quickly that people just have too much stuff. Closets and rooms were overloaded with furniture, accessories and other home goods.

Homeowners just couldn’t let go, or, if they were ready to donate it, didn’t know where to take it. Craig knew there was a need. The mom of two had spent years volunteering in the community, including with a program that helps women moving out of prison.

So Craig, along with co-founder Beth Smoot, quickly put that staging business aside and started The Green Chair Project, a nonprofit program that helps needy families and individuals outfit new homes with everything from kitchen towels to couches.

In five years, the project has grown from a church closet to a 30,000-square-foot warehouse off Capital Boulevard in Raleigh. Here, agencies bring people who were once homeless; escaped domestic abuse; or have lost everything in a fire or other disaster to pick out what they need to make their new homes their own.

For some, it’s taken years to get to this point. Many leave, Craig said, with tears of happiness and gratitude.

“It really is the icing on the cake to their recovery,” Craig said. “They’ve done the hard work just to get here.”

Since 2010, The Green Chair Project has served more than 700 households and 2,000 individuals in Wake County.

Before Green Chair opened, local social service agencies had few resources to collect and store the items that their clients needed when they moved into an apartment or house. They might have a set of dishes or a couch.

“None of them were really set up to make a whole home,” Craig said.

Today, partner agencies connect their clients with Green Chair. Case managers set up private appointments for the families, who they work with and accompany on their shopping trip. For a small fee of usually $50 to $200, people get Green Points, which they are able to exchange for items on the showroom floor.

It’s all designed with the people’s dignity in mind. This space doesn’t feel like a thrift store or cheap furniture store. Volunteers have worked hard to create baskets of bath items or collections of kitchen dishes, plates and towels that match.

Couches aren’t lined up against a wall. Instead, they’re paired with coordinating chairs, coffee tables and other items. Sheet and comforter sets are rolled up neatly in big bags so people can just pull them off the shelves.

Families get one-on-one help as they pick out items – first for the kitchen and bath and eventually the living areas and bedrooms. But they’re encouraged to pick out things based on what they like.

“It’s not like here’s your free couch,” Craig said. “It’s what colors do you like, couch vs. chairs. We all like to have a say and we all like different things and colors. … We’re creating an environment that you want to live in and helps make a sustainable lifestyle.”

As The Green Chair Project grew, it also began a separate program to provide beds to Wake County school children who don’t have one. Wake schools social workers approached the group to share stories about the many children who have no bed to sleep on. Sleeping on dirty floors or dusty carpets, the kids would come to school tired, sick and not ready to learn, Craig said.

Green Chair started Ella’s Sweeter Dreams, which has given 10 beds a month to Wake kids who need them. In 2015, the group is increasing that to 15 beds a month. They also will start providing new beds for the kids whose families come through Green Chair.

The Organic Bedroom has donated some of the twin mattress sets and frames for the project, but Green Chair leaders have been working hard to raise money for the rest of the costs. They are grateful for donations of new beds and bedding, but also used kid-friendly sheet sets and handmade blankets.

Craig knows there’s a need for more of everything they do. And, as she looks back over the last five years, she’s grateful for the support they’ve received from across the community.

“Every day I’m surprised when I see the parking lot is full of cars,” she said.

Craig hopes that The Green Chair Project turns into the place where people donate their old furniture and home goods. If you get a new couch, she says, bring your old one to The Green Chair. If you have a new set of dishes, bring your old set there.

They welcome donations of furniture and home goods. They could really use microwaves, pots and pans, George Foreman grills, slow cookers, coffee makers, can open and kitchen utensils.

They’d love twin bedding for the Sweeter Dreams program. If your child has outgrown his old Spider-Man or her former Dora sheets, Green Chair is the place to bring them.

They welcome donations of bath baskets that include coordinating towels, washcloths, shower curtain and soap or collections of cleaning supplies.

They also could use lots of volunteers. Kids 13 and up can volunteer (with adult supervision until they are 16). Youth groups, with adult supervision, also are welcome. And I think this would make for a fun moms’ day out with a group of friends.

The Green Chair Project also holds a public sale four times a year to help raise money for its programs. The Green Chair’s website has more information.

“I would love to put more families in homes and kids in beds,” Craig said. “I think we are just starting to see the potential and the needs.”

Original Article: