By Susan Risoli
People who cannot afford furniture sleep on the floor, do homework on the kitchen counter, and dream of a day they might invite friends over.
Open Door Exchange is a one-year-old, Setauket-based organization that offers gently used furniture to those who need it. The group held a walkathon Sept. 24 to raise funds and awareness for its mission.
On a rainy morning, 40 people gathered to walk the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail. Lake Grove resident Frank Miranda said he ventured out on the blustery fall day because “I’m a big fan of Open Door; all my friends are here’.”
As the event got underway, online pledges totaled $1,890 toward the walk’s fundraising goal of $2,500, said Open Door Exchange member Diane Melidosian of Stony Brook.
By the time walkers reached the trail’s end, the clouds cleared and sunlight filtered through the windows of the exchange’s nearby warehouse, behind Fun 4 All in Port Jefferson Station.
The all-volunteer group is an outreach of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Founded last year by parishioner Kate Calone, the organization accepts donated furniture. Merchandise can either be dropped off at the warehouse, or volunteers will pick it up, by appointment.
Keeping furniture out of landfills is one of the group’s goals, and member Sheila Towers said volunteers have been known to pull over to the curb and scoop up perfectly good pieces placed outside with the trash.
The furniture is given free of charge. Calone said many of her clients are veterans, people transitioning to housing after being homeless or living in shelters, or families displaced by a disaster. After networking with social service agencies, Calone learned that providing furniture was often beyond their scope and their budgets.
“Other organizations were saying to us, ‘We’re just [giving furniture] piecemeal,’” Calone said. “So we said, ‘Okay, maybe that’s a gap we can fill.’”
“They get furniture, but we get just as much from doing this.”
Open Door Exchange needs more dressers, small kitchen tables and chairs, and twin bed frames. Anyone looking for an alternative holiday gift idea is encouraged to donate to the “mattress fund,” Calone said, because she does not accept donated mattresses, but will purchase one if she or other volunteers find out someone is sleeping on the floor.
Even in this gritty industrial park, volunteers make the warehouse cheerful. A vase of dried flowers adds a splash of color to a furniture display. Visitors are greeted with snacks. Dignity is given to clients who come to pick out furniture. Calone said that was one of her intentions in starting the program.
“When any of us go to the furniture store to shop, we get to think about what we would like, and what would look nice in our home,” she said. This is no jumble of discarded stuff, but a space carefully set up so people can browse.
Volunteers of all abilities and ages are welcome, for one time — or on a continuing basis — as an individual or with a group.
Open Door Exchange needs help with a variety of tasks, from driving a truck and picking up furniture, to greeting clients and doing an intake, to dusting the furniture.
Sheila Towers said the name of the organization reflects the exchange that flows between clients and volunteers. “They get furniture, but we get just as much from doing this,” she said. “Seeing the people take their furniture home and how happy they become, it’s a great feeling.”
To reach Open Door Exchange, call 631-751-0176 or visit www.opendoorexchange.org.