When we announced that we were closing back in March due to COVID-19, we were as unsure what to expect as everyone else. Our operation had far from stopped though, as we immediately began brainstorming how we could serve clients and keep everyone safe while the demand for our services continues to grow. That’s when we began experimenting with a virtual furniture bank. Partnering almost exclusively with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, we have built up the capacity to serve as many as nine veteran clients per week.

The virtual furniture bank would not be possible without the hard work and ingenuity of our volunteers in every step of the process. Virtual Client Hosts guide clients through furniture selection over the phone while browsing our inventory online in a similar format to online shopping. Still guaranteed an hour of uninterrupted selection, clients are not given access to the website until the start of the appointment to prevent multiple people vying for the same items. To ensure there are plenty of choices, volunteers upload inventory to the online store in between each block of appointments. At the end of the week, a small group gathers the orders to be delivered by movers the following day. In between all of this, even more volunteers working in isolated groups have begun helping out at New Life with various needs – meaning no two groups of volunteers are in the warehouse at the same time and groups are made up of people already in quarantine with one another.

While we’ve had our fair share of challenges, the virtual furniture bank has been a success – serving 32 clients in May. This model allows New Life to serve some of the most vulnerable populations. Those with physical disabilities, no access to transportation, or other factors that limited them from going to New Life can now be served with the same dignity from home. For this reason, we are exploring adapting the virtualfurniture bank as an option in addition to in-person appointments when we resume normal operations. Implementing both models would allow us to guarantee an hour to two clients simultaneously.

Nevertheless, we do not foresee being able to safely serve clients in person for at least the next three months. We will continue to develop the virtual furniture bank and increase volunteer opportunities that are either remote or at New Life with restrictions. Our priority is the safety of our volunteers. We understand if you do not feel comfortable returning yet and will welcome you with open arms when you are ready. If you are ready to return, email Amanda Wolfe, Volunteer Coordinator, at amanda@newlifefb.org.

Special thanks to the volunteers that have dedicated their time to developing the pilot:
Laura CromartyLaura Stanton
Jane & Ned Hackett
Molly Sliney
Kathy Belmont
Kendra Kannally
Andrea O’Shaughnessy
Wendy Carlson
Joan Parsons
Susan Armo
Randy Karg
Rob BabsonBob Rich
Rick Hooker