When homeless people finally find a place to live, they often move in with the clothes on their backs and little else.
That was the case for Brian, who recently moved from a shelter into an affordable apartment with his partner, Shannon, and their son. “We fell on hard times and had to get rid of all of our things while we lived in the shelter,” Brian says. “We were thrilled to have a home we could afford, but we had nothing to put in it.”
Then Brian and Shannon met Kim Sleeman, founder and director of the Warehouse NJ. The nonprofit provided the family with everything they needed: “couch, bedroom furniture, kitchen table, the bedding,” Brian says. “We can’t thank Kim enough for what she did for our family.”
In the past two years, Millburn-based Warehouse NJ has helped 135 families furnish their homes. Individuals and a handful of retailers donate the new and slightly used furnishings and household goods for the Warehouse NJ’s free service.
“If you’re homeless or living paycheck to paycheck, you put all your money into that first month’s rent and deposit,” Sleeman explains. “It doesn’t leave enough for furniture or household goods.”
Sleeman, who volunteers her time, says she works harder at the Warehouse NJ than she did at any previous job. With fellow volunteers, she collects, stores and delivers the donated goods. “The best day is when I meet with the clients and watch them choose furnishings for their new apartment,” she says. She never dictates what the clients pick, offering suggestions only when asked.
Sleeman met Brian and Shannon through Homeless Solutions Inc., a nonprofit that offers shelter, services and supportive housing to the homeless and working poor in Morris County. It’s one of a dozen nonprofits that collaborate with Sleeman.
“Kim approached us,” says Tamala Reynolds, volunteer manager at Homeless Solutions. “When our clients move into housing, we try to procure furniture and other household items to get them started. We worked with a number of church groups. However, the pandemic slowed that. Fortunately, Kim reached out to us 2 1/2 years ago. Everyone she’s helped sees how big her heart is.”
Volunteering has always been an integral part of Sleeman’s life. After college, she joined the Peace Corps and volunteered in Niger, Africa. Now she recruits volunteers to help at the Warehouse NJ. Even her own children join in.
“They see how fulfilling it is to help others,” Sleeman says.
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