Furniture is a necessity. It allows a family to sit at a table and eat together. It gives children a place to do homework. It provides the opportunity to open one’s home to guests. It’s essential for a good night’s sleep.
People transitioning from homelessness, domestic violence shelters, military service or displacement following a disaster need more than just a roof over their heads.
Inspired by a youth mission trip to a furniture bank just outside Washington, D.C., Kate Calone wondered if such a service would fly on Long Island. For some, this might have been a daunting task, but Calone set about researching and planning. She organized a feasibility committee and piloted the group to take off.
The Open Door Exchange is rounding out its second year of operations, having served more than 300 Long Island families and individuals in need. Referred by social service agencies and nonprofits, people can “shop” with dignity, by appointment at the organization’s rented Port Jefferson Station warehouse, which is configured to resemble a furniture store. All pieces are free of charge.
For her compassion, determination and leadership in helping Long Islanders in need, Calone is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.
A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Calone spent six years as an attorney before entering the Princeton Theological Seminary. When she and her husband Dave, who ran against Anna Throne-Holst in the 2016 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District and Suffolk County judge, returned to Long Island to raise their three children, Calone worked at the First Presbyterian Church in Northport before joining the Setauket Presbyterian Church as associate pastor, to work with the Youth Group.
When she returned from D.C., she told retired Setauket businessman and church member Tom Kavazanjian her idea and asked if he’d be interested in helping. Having great respect for Calone and her worthwhile cause, he said yes.
“Kate’s leadership is unique,” he said. “She leads with a quiet confidence and is one of the most unassuming and selfless people I know. Everything she does, she does with such grace.”
With a lot of planning — and the help of a group of dedicated volunteers — Open Door Exchange was launched in January 2015, recounted Stony Brook resident and retired school teacher Diane Melidosian, who was also an early recruit.
“This was no easy undertaking,” she said. “Since there is no cost to the recipient, all costs associated with this program are handled through fundraising, grant writing and contributions.”
There were lots of logistics to be worked out and the committee used A Wider Circle, the furniture bank in the outskirts of D.C., as a model.
East Setauket resident Bonnie Schultz said being a part of the creation of Open Door Exchange energized her.
“I’d never been part of a startup,” she said. “It’s exciting. And [the organization] has grown by leaps and bounds. The amount of furniture that goes in and out of [the warehouse] is incredible.”
She said even some clients come back to volunteer.
Another member of the exploratory committee, Stony Brook therapist Linda Obernauer, said the youngsters who traveled on the mission played an important part in advancing the idea of a Long Island furniture bank.
“Kate got more interested as the kids got into it,” she said, adding that Calone has served as a role model to many of them. “People who are ‘of the fiber’ do the right thing. Kate doesn’t have to have accolades, she helps people because that’s who she is.”