Jack Robinson and his three friends stood over a half-built furniture set, aligning stubborn nuts and bolts that would soon shape up to be a brand new glider and coffee table. The directions were complicated and the materials were heavy, but that didn’t stop them from cranking out three of those sets within a couple of hours.
The four men belong to the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, one of the organizations on Habitat’s Faith Committee. Twice a month, rotating members of the church spend their morning at Habitat’s warehouse, where they assemble donated furniture from Simpli Home and other business donors to be sold at any of the Habitat Portland Region ReStore locations.
“If Habitat wasn’t doing this, all these kits would go to a landfill,” Jack said.
Simpli Home donates its overstock furniture for a variety of reasons; either the pieces were lightly damaged in transit or returned by customers. Oftentimes, Jack said, people get frustrated trying to assemble the pieces, give up and return the whole box. That’s when Habitat steps in.
John Lassen, Habitat’s Online Sales and Warehouse Administrator, has been leading the furniture build program for a year and a half. It started out with a weekly small box truck delivery, and now, a third-party hauler brings a huge semi-truck out once a month filled with furniture waiting to be built.
John and a team of other staff members built most of the furniture themselves for the first few months before realizing what a rich opportunity it would be for volunteer engagement. These days, in addition to the Westminster group, regular volunteers come to the warehouse weekly to assemble kits.
“I love teaching,” John said, “and so whenever I get a chance to walk somebody through something, or teach somebody something that they didn’t know before, that’s another really rewarding part of it for me.”
The Westminster Church sends volunteers to Habitat’s construction sites repair projects as well as the furniture builds. Many members of the church are retirees, Jack said, and they’re always looking for opportunities to volunteer.
“The furniture builds have been a great thing for Westminster,” he said. “We don’t have to climb on ladders but we’re not afraid of power tools. It really matches our skill sets and abilities.”
Since April 2022, Jack calculated that his group has built over 300 pieces of furniture. They have 10 regular volunteers, but others have joined from time to time as well.
Once the pieces are assembled, John inspects them and provides any additional support if needed. The gilder and coffee tables were flying off the shelves at only $100 per set.
The feel-good nature of the project is what keeps the volunteers coming back, Jack said. It’s rewarding to step back and admire several completed furniture sets after a tiring, yet fulfilling, morning. An unexpected bonus, he added, is how much closer the group has become since this all began.
“The fact that they can get out and spend time chatting together and working is a nice social opportunity for our volunteers,” Jack said. “We love doing it.”