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Des Moines nonprofit sends truckloads of furniture to Cedar Rapids residents recovering from storm

Sarah Kay LeBlanc Des Moines Register

For more than a year, Cedar Rapids-area Central Furniture Rescue Director Susan Johnston has been working tirelessly to help those leaving bad situations or entering a new phase of life.

When her organization became the one that needed help after the derecho struck Aug. 10, leaving Central Furniture Rescue without power for about two weeks, Des Moines furniture bank FreeStore was ready.

Johnston said when Marty Rathje, FreeStore’s board chair, reached out and asked what her organization needed, she was ready with a list.

On Tuesday, FreeStore volunteers responded by loading up two trucks with mattresses, chairs, couches, kitchen tables and other household items for those recently displaced by the storm. They delivered the items Wednesday.

Central Furniture Rescue is a furniture bank that furnishes homes for free to help those transitioning out of homelessness. Johnston started the organization in 2019. She said FreeStore, which has been a nonprofit for about 16 years, has been her mentor.

So far this year, Johnston said the rescue has helped 242 households. She expects an increase in need from the derecho. She’s already received calls for help, but knows there will be more when people who have been displaced are able to move into a new home.

“Right now I can’t give them furniture if they don’t have a home to live in, but we need to be ready for when that happens,” she said.

Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids’ public safety communications coordinator, said 914 residential properties and 94 commercial properties sustained major damage in the storm. The fire department has declared 111 residential and 33 commercial properties unsafe to occupy.

When those who have been displaced move back into their homes or find other shelter, Central Furniture Rescue will be ready to help. The organization takes referrals from agencies such as homeless shelters, churches and the department of corrections.

The FreeStore focuses on helping people who have been in domestic violence situations. The store also assists homeless youth.

To make sure all donations the organization is giving are safe and protected from COVID-19, FreeStore volunteers put newly donated items in a large storage unit for 72 hours before giving them to others.

FreeStore Secretary Harry Swanson said the organization followed that same protocol before loading items onto the trucks bound for Cedar Rapids. He said he hopes the items will allow Central Furniture Rescue to help as many people as possible.

“We don’t have a goal other than to make sure that they’re successful,” he said. “We know they’re going to be hit with a lot of requests.”

Anyone interested in donating items or funds can visit thefreestore.org or centralfurniturerescue.com.

Sarah LeBlanc covers trending news for the Register. Reach her at 515-284-8161 or sleblanc@registermedia.com.

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