Paul Fleming, Bell Bank Wealth Advisor
Furniture Mission of the Red River Valley
As an American Red Cross volunteer, Evert Van Engelenhoven often does what he can to help people in crisis. He was working with a South Dakota couple who lost their home and all of their property when he learned about an organization that would help them furnish their entire home.
“The idea is almost without question,” Evert says. “It is so simple, and yet, it was not done in the Fargo-Moorhead area.”
So Evert decided to start something similar. He pulled together a group of people who believed in his idea and launched Furniture Mission of the Red River Valley.
“It’s been 10 times the work than they thought they were getting themselves into, but nobody has said, ‘I’ve had enough,’” notes Evert, Furniture Mission board president. “I’m probably busier now than I’ve ever been since my retirement, yet I go to bed at night totally without stress, because it’s very, very gratifying.”
Before starting the nonprofit, the group visited with local organizations that serve people recovering from a disaster, homelessness or incarceration to find out how they were helping people furnish their homes.
“Those organizations provide counseling, shelter or food, but people moving into more permanent housing are kind of on their own when it comes to furnishing,” explains Paul Fleming, a Bell Bank wealth advisor who also volunteers for Furniture Mission by servicing on various committees. “Furniture Mission fills a void. We’ve been very fortunate that other organizations serving the same audience recognize how we can work together. They’ve been very supportive of what we’re doing.”
Once they saw the need for an organization like Furniture Mission, the group sought advice from Pat Traynor, executive director of Dakota Medical Foundation. He helped them figure out how to start a nonprofit and raise funds on Giving Hearts Day, a 24-hour fundraising event for North Dakota and Minnesota charities.
“The Furniture Mission is an example of servant leadership and giving back in our community,” Pat comments. “This is really about a hand up, helping people get to independence by fitting up a home for them. Everybody needs a home and a safe place to be at night.”
Furniture Mission, run and operated mostly by volunteers, accepted their first donation in April of 2020 and just 3 months later, had a warehouse full of donated beds, couches, tables, chairs and other furnishings.
“What’s really neat about this is we don’t buy anything, we don’t sell anything, and we don’t ask people why they need our help,” Paul remarks. “The question we ask is, ‘What do you need?’ It feels really good to be part of that.”
In addition to volunteering for the organization, Paul has been able to use his Pay It Forward funds to help support Furniture Mission’s operating costs.
“I feel very fortunate to have the Pay It Forward program available to us,” Paul says. “That helps us support things we care about that benefit our community.”
Recipients are referred to Furniture Mission through local organizations, mainly American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region, Churches United for the Homeless, New Life Center, YWCA Cass Clay and Frasier, Ltd.
“We’re literally overwhelmed at times,” Evert explains. “We can’t get the volunteers we need right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’d love to be able to take every referral that comes in the door, but it’s just not possible, so we have to be somewhat selective. The people who are receiving this stuff are people in crisis.”
Furniture Mission accepts gently used items and focuses mainly on the basic essentials someone would need to furnish a home. Beds, dressers and kitchen tables and chairs are in high demand. They pick up most of the donations – using a truck donated by Fix It Forward ministries – and they clean and store them in a warehouse that was also donated.
“There is no one piece of this,” Pat affirms. “It’s all of us working it together that makes it a vision that comes to fruition in service to others and service to our neighbors.”
Through the Pay It Forward program, Bell Bank gives employees money each year to donate to people and causes they care about.