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Furnishing new lives

Donations from Lake Oswego help Community Warehouse get underserved families back on their feet

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - The Estevez family loads their van with furniture for their Beaverton home. Items from Lake Oswego account for about 20 percent of Community Warehouses donations. Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Communications Director Rena Satre Meloy checks over the inventory of home furnishings at Community Warehouse, which provides furniture and essential housewares to more than 50 underserved families in the Portland area each week. Food banks and other social service agencies work tirelessly to make sure that the Portland metro area’s most vulnerable populations have enough to eat.

Community Warehouse takes the next step.

“There’s a lot of community talk and interest in food insecurity,” says Rena Satre Meloy, the nonprofit’s communications director. “But how are people going to cook healthy meals? How are they going to sit with their family and eat together?”

Established in 2001, Community Warehouse provides furniture and essential housewares to more than 50 underserved families in the Portland area each week. And while its two warehouses are located in Portland (3969 N.E. MLK Jr. Blvd.) and Tualatin (8380 S.W. Nyberg St.), it is the residents and businesses of Lake Oswego who have proven to be among Community Warehouse’s top patrons.

“The community of Lake Oswego offers a significant, steady boost to Community Warehouse,” says Tom Elston, Portland site manager. “It is a small area relative to other donation zones, but we see a larger concentration of donations — both furniture and monetary gifts — from the Lake Oswego area than any other section of the city.”

More specifically, Lake Oswego donations have accounted for about 20 percent of pick-ups since September, and about 15 percent of last year’s monetary donations — just over $18,500 — came from Lake Oswego residents.

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Evan Chisholm, one of Community Warehouses site managers, helps a family pick out a dining room set. “That’s very significant, considering Community Warehouse is not located in Lake Oswego,” Meloy says.

The community steps up in other ways, too: Six Lake Oswego businesses have hosted collection drives for the warehouse, and of the organization’s 54 regular volunteers, six live in Lake Oswego.

High-ticket donations from Lake Oswego have also helped stock the Estate Store, a well-curated antiques clearinghouse adjoining both Warehouse locations.

“We were realizing that a lot of donors coming to us had definitely valuable — but not essential — items,” Meloy says. For instance, a family just getting back on its feet may not need a set of antique silver or commemorative presidential campaign pins, but that doesn’t mean the donations aren’t welcome.

“We decided to open up estate stores where we sell antiques, collectibles and some retro, vintage, funky items,” Meloy explains.

The store updates its blog, estatestore.org, to reflect some of the more interesting new offerings in each store. Recent posts highlighted a Mid-Century Modern teak office desk in top condition, a set of uranium glassware dating back to the 1920s and a souvenir bottle from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

The stores have proven quite popular.

“It brings in over $300,000 a year for us,” Meloy says, or just about a third of Community Warehouse’s operating expenses.

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Rena Satre Meloy, Community Warehouses communications director, scans the housewares department. Pots and pans are among the most-needed items. Community Warehouse partners with about 180 agencies to help vulnerable populations — victims of domestic violence, military veterans, people with disabilities, those transitioning from homelessness, refugee populations — to identify need.

“These are people who are getting basic services, like food stamps,” Meloy explains. “And once they have their shelter, the hope is that these agencies actually bring the families into the warehouse.”

When families and caseworkers arrive at the warehouse, their needs are assessed and then one of Community Warehouse’s 19 staff members walk clients through the aisles, helping them choose the items they need to properly set up their home.

“That’s one of the neatest things, I think, about what we do,” Meloy says. “It’s a really wonderful thing to watch happen.”

The most needed items? Twin beds, dressers, and pots and pans. But not all needs can be met, Meloy says, especially during January and February. Donations tend to stall after the holidays and before spring cleaning, she says; 197 people were scheduled to visit the warehouse this week, but as of Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single dresser to be had.

“Truthfully, all of these people do not always get everything they ask for,” Meloy says. “Ideally, we want to get people everything they need, especially in terms of beds, a dining table, dish sets. But the biggest challenge we have is that we’re only able to give away what we have coming in as donations. We’re often scrambling to come up with items they’ve requested and need.”

To help raise awareness and spur donations, Community Warehouse holds an annual spring fundraising event called The Chair Affair. More than 100 artists from throughout the area transform cast-off furniture and household goods into beautiful home furnishings that are then auctioned at a fun, funky event. This year’s gala is scheduled for Saturday, April 18.

For more information about The Chair Affair or to make a donation now, visit CommunityWarehouse.org.

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or ssorenson@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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