What makes a house a home? Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps members found out this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“How many of you are experienced furniture movers?” Lucy Barker, cofounder of local nonprofit Houses Into Homes, asked the group Monday as they got ready to start their morning of service.
Barker and Salina McCarty started the Coralville-based nonprofit in 2018 after volunteering at their children’s elementary school and seeing the need for beds. McCarty said they were hearing from children about how their backs hurt and they couldn’t sleep. They realized that although the families had a house, they didn’t necessarily have anything to put in it.
Since then, Houses Into Homes has had no shortage of referrals for individuals and families transitioning to more permanent housing in need of beds, furniture and other household items.
“We haven’t seen a big increase in referrals because of Covid, although we did serve many more families in 2020 than we did in 2019,” McCarty wrote in an email. “We served 145 households in 2019, and 204 in 2020.”
She went on to write that she and Barker did expect there to be more referrals due to the pandemic and subsequent economical challenges, but thought because of the rental assistance and eviction moratoriums put in place by state and local governments, more people may have been able to stay in housing.
The AmeriCorps volunteer group was able to pull, load, deliver and unload items for five households in a few short hours where Barker and McCarty acknowledged it would’ve taken them all week. McCarty described a situation where she and another volunteer did a delivery which required them to do 30 trips up and down the stairs.
“The more arms we have, the better,” she said and thanked the group for their ability to volunteer during the week when they could use the most assistance.
The project also aligned with Bur Oak’s broader goal of restoring the local environment through waste reduction. By distributing unwanted or unused furniture to those who need it, Houses Into Homes is keeping usable furniture out of the landfill. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 9.6 million tons of furniture was landfilled in 2018.
The third Monday in January commemorating the birthday of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is the only federal holiday that promotes national service. It is also a day where AmeriCorps members across the country participate in projects that meet critical needs in the community. The members from the Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps program and its host site partner Tamarack Discovery School, volunteered as a way to give back.
“Living in a home without basic necessities like a bed would affect many aspects of an individual’s life,” Jack Sytsma, Bur Oak AmeriCorps member, wrote in a reflection assignment. “Helping to provide those individuals with these resources eliminates this added stress to others they may already be facing.”
On the last delivery, a recipient, stunned at the quantity of donated furniture, asked, “is that it?”
His gratitude reflected how important this service is to the community.
“Thank you guys, thanks a lot,” he said. “We sure need it.”