Charity struggles to keep up with demand to furnish refugees' homes

1 / 4
Charity struggles to keep up with demand to furnish refugees' homes

Refugee families arriving in Winnipeg don't only need a roof over their heads — they also need beds to sleep on and tables to eat at. One charity is stepping up, but its volunteers can't keep up with demand for delivery of used furniture. 

Hands of Hope is a registered charity that has been providing free furniture to low income families for the last 15 years. 

Many of the recipients are single mothers and immigrants, but this year the office has been busier than ever because of new refugees settling in Winnipeg.

"We're very busy. Sometimes we get a 100 calls a day," said Hands of Hope founder Charles Norris.

"When people get housing it's not much of a house if there's nothing in it, and so we deliver them furniture and then it becomes a home."

The warehouse at the Hands of Hope office is packed with couches, bed frames, tables, lamps and other household items ready to go to families who need it. But the organization can't get the donated furniture out to families fast enough.

"There's lots of people we have to tell them to wait — and some of them we never get to, unfortunately," said Norris.

He said many of the calls are also coming from other charities or settlement agencies like Welcome Place looking for unwanted furniture.

On Monday, staff from Hands of Hope delivered a couch to a new Syrian family who live in a two-bedroom suite at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba on Ellen Street.

'Thank you, Canada'

Yahia Al Hamali and his wife, Nour Salim, are government-sponsored refugees who arrived in Winnipeg in December of 2016 with their five-year-old son, Shadi.

Al Hamali said he is very happy to finally have some furniture in his new home.

"Thank you, Canada," said Shadi, as he sat on the couch delivered to his family.

Maryna Prystaiko, a co-ordinator at Hands of Hope, said she met Al Hamali through another Syrian family that live in the building. 

She said Hamali is currently taking English classes so he can find a job and support his family.

"We help a lot of people in this building," Prystaiko said.

"It's wonderful, just amazing to see how happy they are so they don't have to think about furniture, so they can move forward," she said.

Right now the organization has four full-time employees and about a handful of volunteers on any given day to help deliver furniture to immigrant families.

But the organization needs more volunteers to keep up with the demand.

"We are in need of volunteers to help repair the furniture, sometimes the tables may need legs attached or dressers that may need drawers fixed," Norris said.

Refurbished and delivered

The items most needed right now are kitchen chairs, dining tables, cutlery and pots and pans.   

The organization gets some funding through the Winnipeg Foundation and relies on donations from the public and local church groups.

"We pick up furniture from people who want to donate it, refurbish it if necessary, and then deliver it to people that are in need," Norris said.

The organization also provides workshops for immigrant families once a year that shows them how to assemble or repair their own furniture.

Norris said he's still touched by how the families react when his staff show up at their door.

"They're very happy. Some of them are in tears. They're so pleased that somebody thought about them," said Norris. "They certainly wouldn't have got that help in the country they came from."