By: Ellen O’Connor

Imagine moving into a new home, in a new country with nothing but the clothes on your back and a family to care for. Although you have a roof over your head, you have little money and no furniture – not even a bed.

Now imagine waking up in the morning to a fully furnished home, a bed to sleep in, a couch to sit on and a table for meals. They may be insignificant items to those who have always had them, but a gift to a family who previously had nothing.

A group of Algonquin College students had the opportunity to make this a reality for two families in Ottawa on Sept. 26. The students joined forces with Helping with Furniture, an Ottawa organization that helps furnish the homes of refugee families, to kick-off the first of many community projects organized by the Student Affairs and Orientation department this year.

“We really want to bring volunteerism to life,” said Sophia Bouris, SAO officer and community project organizer. “We want students to volunteer in the Algonquin community and the Ottawa community.”

The projects aim to educate students on social issues and community development in a practical scenario where they can make an impact immediately.

The group donned orange vests and work gloves and piled into a moving truck as they made their way across the city to pick-up locations. At each location, they loaded the truck with items donated by families, such as bunk beds, dressers, sofas, desks and a dining room table.

“I’m moving and had all these extra pieces,” said Caroline Xavier, one of the donors. “I didn’t want to just bring it to the Salvation Army, I wanted to make sure I was doing something important.”

After picking up all the furniture, the volunteers went back to a warehouse and sorted it into different piles for each family, ensuring an even distribution to suit each family’s needs. As night fell upon the volunteers, they re-loaded the truck with the selected furniture and began the delivery.

“Our mission is basically to take furniture from people who don’t want to use it anymore and is in good shape,” said Nathalie Maione, president of HWF. Rather than have it end up in a landfill, the furniture is donated to refugee families.

Many are second refugees who have relocated, or abused women who often come out of the shelter with nothing. While they have a little money for set-up, it is not enough to cover all their expenses.

This type of philanthropy is what students enjoy because it is hands on, immediate, and they can make a difference in just one night of work, said Maione.

“I think we should do it again,” said Stacey Kelly, a third-year business administration student and student leader with the SAO. “It’s awesome to think we are furnishing people’s actual homes and helping them out. It’s fantastic.”
Kelly said she hopes the turnout will be even bigger next time once students hear about the SAO’s initiative.
“Students get to meet the families and talk to them so they really understand how they’re helping,” said Bouris. “They see an outcome, which is what we’re trying to promote in every service we provide.”

Upcoming community projects will consist of volunteer work at an Ottawa homeless shelter, food bank and retirement home. To get involved, contact the SAO office in the Student Commons building.