Furnishing Hope fills little-known niche in Steele County
From left, Joe Stiles and Tom Hyland are Furnishing Hope to local families in need. They store donated items at their warehouse and distribute them–through local social service agencies and charities–to people in need. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Inside a small warehouse space in Owatonna, two retirees are working to make life a little more comfortable for Steele County residents in need.
That’s where Furnishing Hope, founded more than three years ago by Joe Stiles and Tom Hyland, stores donated couches, love seats, armchairs, mattresses, bedframes, dressers, dining room tables and chairs. Clients referred by more than a dozen nonprofits and agencies come in, by appointment, to select the items they need.
And if they don’t have transportation, Furnishing Hope delivers.
While they don’t exactly agree on the nonprofit’s origin story, Stiles and Hyland met at Owatonna-based Federated Insurance. Stiles retired first, and when Hyland took the same step, Stiles reached out. The two met for breakfast to talk about the idea of providing furniture to people who were trying to get their lives back on track.
“Joe’s a member of St. Vincent de Paul,” Hyland said. The national nonprofit, which provides food, clothing, and financial aid to people in need, operates a food shelf in Faribault. “When he was going out on home visits, he’d see people who had homes, but no furniture.”
After a few breakfast conversations, the two “finally got serious” about forming their nonprofit. A visit to Bridging, a Twin Cities nonprofit that has since 1987 provided furnishings and household goods for those transitioning out of homelessness, helped them get a handle on what they wanted to do in Steele County.
Stiles and Hyland also visited local nonprofits and agencies to make sure they weren’t duplicating services, then started getting the word out about Furnishing Hope at local churches.
“We started getting donations,” Hyland said. “It took several months to get enough to talk to the agencies.”
Their first space, in an empty beer warehouse, came free of charge and “helped us get going,” he added. Also, one of Stiles’ friends gave them a bit of seed money.
“We had an ambition, we had ideas, but we really didn’t have anything else,” Stiles said of the nonprofit’s beginnings. “Then over the course of six months or so, things started to fall into place.”
The real find, though, came from Stiles’ relationship with St. Vincent de Paul in Faribault, after he learned they were no longer handling furniture. They asked whether Furnishing Hope needed a truck.
“It’s an old klunker, but it runs,” Stiles said. “That’s when we went out into the community.”
Once a client is referred from a local agency, Furnishing Hope provides what they call a “basic furniture set up”: beds and dressers for the bedrooms, a dining room table and chairs, and a couch and armchair or two for the living room.
Clients pay a $20 appointment fee and a modest delivery charge (they can also pick up on their own), but nothing for the furniture. Most agencies that make referrals, Stiles said, will take care of the fees.
Donors can drop off items free of charge (by appointment) or pay a fee to have them picked up. Furnishing Hope doesn’t take all donations; for example, mattresses, bed frames, and box springs are welcome, but not bedding, headboards, or side rails. A full list of guidelines is posted at furnishinghopeowatonna.org.
Stiles and Hyland also keep the location of their warehouse confidential, so that people aren’t dropping off furniture donations they’ll just have to haul away.
The nonprofit relies entirely on donations and have received grants from the Owatonna Eagles and Knights of Columbus. Stiles and Hyland manage to keep the budget low by running all-volunteer–both say they just want to meet what is often a hidden need.
“We respond to people who call us who are really in a tough spot,” Stiles said. “Some have serious medical issues and haven’t been able to work… The more you become familiar with that community, it’s amazing. We had no idea the number of people in this town who are struggling.”
To donate furniture, call 507-676-1324. Those who need furniture must work through their caseworker with an agency or charity helping them.