A local non-profit, the Rhode Island Donation Exchange Program, has partnered with Cranston Community Action Program (CCAP) to provide lower-priced furniture, most of which is donated by Cardi’s, to low-income families out of their new warehouse off of Niantic Avenue.
According to its director, Chris Mansfield, the organization takes donations of all types of home goods and furniture, from couches/recliners to bed frames and kitchen tables, and sells them for no more than $350. In addition to that discounted price, customers who show documentation for any type of government or non-profit assistance also qualify for 40 percent off any product they buy.
Brian Robinson, who manages the warehouse, said that around 75 percent of the furniture comes from donations from Cardi’s Furniture, where they do daily runs to pick up the products in the program’s delivery truck. Mansfield said that they house all of the products in their new warehouse, which is 10,000 square feet, double the space they had in their previous location on Silver Spring Avenue.
Lee Beliveau, CCAP’s VP of Development, said that the furniture they get is “all good quality stuff,” though it may not be sold at Cardi’s, for example, because it’s been scratched or dented.
“The whole idea is to get people who need furniture,” he said. “They don’t have any in their homes. It’s needed, especially young families and mothers. We get a lot of people who are referred to us by other social service organizations.”
Mansfield said that he and his staff get to have a final look at furniture before it is donated, which is especially important for the used furniture they are given. They can decide to accept it and sell for their discounted price or reject it if they don’t think the quality is good enough.
According to Mansfield, one of the challenges they have is selling the furniture for cheap price while trying to bring in enough revenue to pay for operational costs.
“We have to bring in revenues because we have overhead costs, like rent and delivery fees,” he said. “It’s been a balance of how a non-profit can find a way to run a retail type program, keep cost low, provide a service to low-income families, and at the same time generate revenue so we can stay open.”
He said that they receive funding through the Department of Human Services and apply to any state, federal, or foundation-based grants they can. He also wants to spread the word about the program to increase the number of donations, in dollars and in furniture, they can get.
“Our ultimate goal would be to get enough donations from foundations, from the state, from the city, so that we have enough in operating costs,” he said. “We also want to work with the community to increase donations.”
He said the Exchange Program previously partnered with non-profits that paid a $300 fee to automatically qualify their members for the 40 percent discount. This has been left behind, Mansfield said, in order to try to service more people.
He also said that there are many people who don’t qualify for the discount that take advantage of their low prices, so to make sure low-income families are served they want to get the word out more about what they do.
An addition to their organization that CCAP has already made has been partnerships with other social service programs, including Opportunities Unlimited, a Cranston-based non-profit that finds work for mentally and physically challenged individuals.
Linda Ward, Executive Director, said that they’ll send one person at a time, who will be accompanied by one of their staff, to work at the Exchange, the first furniture enterprise they’ve partnered with.
“They’ll practice soft skills here that are sometimes their biggest obstacles, like greeting people appropriately or waiting their turn,” Ward said. “They’ll also be learning skills like displaying furniture or cleaning, with the idea that eventually they’ll use those skills for a job.”
Mansfield said that the Exchange also has money to spend on low-income youth, aged 14 to 24, who go to the organization’s youth centers around the state. This money will be issued for a 240-hour paid internships for those individuals to work at the warehouse and find out “what it takes to have a full-time job.”
“This serves so many of our most vulnerable throughout many communities,” Mayor Allan Fung said at the ribbon-cutting about the partnership between CCAP and the Exchange. “A mission that CCAP has always been passionate about. This will help furnish so many homes.”
The warehouse, which also has free-to-take items donated by CVS, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They do not do home deliveries.