Imagine finally having the courage to escape a domestic violence situation and walking out the door from your home with nothing but the shirt on your back. Or what if you were a foster child who aged out of the system overnight and suddenly find yourself alone? A fire engulfs your home and takes all your precious belongings. These and many other situations have left countless people with nowhere to turn. Fortunately, for the last 10 years, Northwest Furniture Bank in Tacoma has been working to make a difference in the lives of others.
Jeremy Simler is the director of development for Northwest Furniture Bank. He left his job in the banking industry more than four years ago to join this nonprofit and has not looked back. Describing himself as heartless and soulless at the time, he said he now finds fulfillment in helping people each day, giving them back the hope, dignity and stability that each person deserves.
“I can fall asleep with my heart and soul fulfilled,” said Simler.
The Northwest Furniture Bank has more than 150 referral partners in Pierce County alone. For instance, if someone’s home is destroyed by fire, the Red Cross will refer those people to Northwest Furniture Bank, who will then help him or her furnish a new place.
Simler provides the example of a woman and four children who may be referred to Northwest Furniture Bank due to escaping a domestic violence situation. “A volunteer will take them through the furniture bank and assist them with shopping. The family can pick out five mattresses, a couch, a dining table, chairs and more. There is a $75 processing fee no matter how much furniture is needed by the client,” said Simler. “We can provide them with everything they need to make a house a home.”
There are three different modules to Northwest Furniture Bank: the retail store, Hope Furnishings, which sells furniture pieces to the public and helps to generate revenue; Spring Back Mattress Recycling, which takes in and inspects mattresses and either refurbishes or recycles them; and the furniture bank, which provides home furnishings to those who find themselves in need.
“This has been a pretty phenomenal undertaking in our community,” said Simler of the number of people they are able to help.
In August alone they recycled over 5,000 mattresses. The purpose of the program is to not only create employment opportunities within their company but also divert mattress waste from landfills and provide re-purposed mattresses and a revenue source for Northwest Furniture Bank.
In August, Northwest Furniture Bank assisted 155 families, a huge testimony to the work they do. Simler encourages people to do what they can to give back to their community in any way they can.
“Some of us have a gift of time. Some of us have the gift of money. Some of us have the gift of wisdom and insight to help in a certain situation,” said Simler. “Everyone has something. Figure out what ‘it’ is and give it away.” He guarantees that as one who gives back, you will be rewarded with a renewed spirit and soul.
Establishing a Nonprofit
While not everyone who desires can undertake something as grand as Northwest Furniture Bank, there are several who have fulfilled their desire to give back to the community by establishing a nonprofit.
Kim Diercks is the president of 7B Women, Inc., a nonprofit in Sandpoint, Idaho. The nonprofit holds monthly networking and educational luncheons and organizes three large fundraising events throughout the year to donate money back into the community to women’s shelters, cancer groups that assist local patients and families, and more. It is something she finds very rewarding.
“I think the most important function of a nonprofit is to give back to our local communities,” said Diercks, who works for Columbia Bank in Sandpoint. “In the banking industry, we are serving individuals and businesses in our communities every day, so I’m fortunate to work for a community bank that has a ‘sense of community’ as one of its core values and is one that supports my nonprofit work.”
Diercks and five other women formed their nonprofit earlier this year, and the support it has received has been amazing, already raising several thousand dollars for local charities.
“I am very fortunate in my personal life, so I feel it’s important to help others who aren’t as lucky,” said Diercks of her desire to be involved in nonprofit groups. “I am active in the causes that are important to me. I grew up with a father in the military, so I’ve lived in many different places. But I’ve never been anywhere with such a strong sense of community. It’s what makes Sandpoint such a great place to live.”
Alice Sloane, a board member and co-chair of two of 7B Women’s major fundraisers, says being a part of 7B Women, or any nonprofit for that matter, fulfills her passion to help those in need.
“My passion was passed down from my late grandmother. It is a passion and legacy I hope to teach and share with my children,” said Sloane. “Being part of a nonprofit also provides an opportunity to grow and evolve as a person by learning new skills, exploring my strengths and weaknesses and creating meaningful relationships.”
Diercks has been involved in several nonprofits and advises that to become a nonprofit there are critical steps to follow.
First, organize your entity as a trust, corporation or association. This involves writing articles of incorporation and written by-laws. Articles of Incorporation are then filed with the state. “You must come up with a name, purpose, list of directors, as well as a registered agent,” said Diercks.
The by-laws appoint initial directors, and one must provide minutes from the first Board of Directors meeting and include a “purpose” that will qualify for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3).
From there, the proposed nonprofit registers with the IRS to obtain an EIN number and applies for tax-exempt status under 501(c) (3) from the federal government with all the aforementioned documents.
One thing to keep in mind when forming a board of directors is to have defined roles. Draw from people’s strengths and talents so that each person will be comfortable with his or her role. And above all, choose something that you are passionate about.
“Being involved in a nonprofit not only helps to raise awareness and educate others,” said Sloane, “It also empowers people to be their best self.”