Oakmont Nonprofit Blesses Families in Need with Furniture — and Love
Since its inception in 2009, The Blessing Board has helped thousands of families obtain furniture and has grown to include the successful Vintage Market.
photos by hannah schneider
Couches, tables and chairs are staples in most American homes, but for some families, buying furniture just isn’t financially feasible.
The Blessing Board has a vision to change that. In a warehouse nestled on the quiet outskirts of Oakmont bordering the Allegheny River, volunteers work tirelessly to provide furniture, the Christian gospel and lots of love to families in need.
The concept started from an actual bulletin board at Hebron Church in Penn Hills. Thomas J. Mitlo Jr., the organization’s founder, began posting “Blessings to Be Given” to be matched with “Blessings Needed” at his church. In 2009, The Blessing Board was born. Two years later it became a nonprofit.
The organization initially started out of Milto’s garage but has since grown to a 46,000-square-foot warehouse and office space in Oakmont and a second 5,000-square-foot location in McKeesport. Of the 800 calls a month they receive, their staff of more than 600 volunteers are able to help 130 families per month. And their operation keeps growing — in 2017, the nonprofit helped more than 1,300 families, compared to more than 900 in 2016.
Rich Garland, Interim Executive Director of The Blessing Board, says many of the individuals and families they service have lived difficult lives.
“Men and women that are coming out of incarceration, women that are fleeing abusive relationships, people struggling with substance abuse, and homeless veterans. People that just generally need to be loved and cared for,” Garland says.
The process of picking out furniture is similar to typical furniture stores — with the exception that all the pieces are free of charge.
When families come in at their scheduled appointment time, they’re first greeted and given food and drinks donated from local bakeries, including Oakmont Bakery and Panera Bread. Then, ambassadors of the organization tell the gospel message of how The Blessing Board came to be, why the families are there and why the volunteers are there.
“We recognize the furniture is just a way that God wants them to come in the door. But He wants them to know that they’re loved,” Garland says. “No matter how broken they feel, no matter how down they feel, no matter how lost they feel, that all the volunteers have been where they are at one time or another, and they are there to love them and care for them.”
Afterward, ambassadors sit down individually with each family to better understand what and how much they need. The families are allowed to walk through an extensive showroom filled with every furniture and household item imaginable — couches, tables, mattresses, dishware and lamps — all gently used and donated from other families around Pittsburgh. Ambassadors tag the items families select with color-coded stickers, and when finished, volunteers help the families load everything into their trucks.
Because all of the furniture is used, much of it needs to be refurbished upon arrival. Volunteers help rewire electronics, wash bedsheets, test lamps, package dishware and refinish furniture.
One of the volunteer’s work even helps pay the rent.
The Vintage Market
Karen Fischetti is the retail coordinator for the Vintage Market, an extension of The Blessing Board. Fischetti pulls about three percent of the donated items and uses her creative talents to revamp them into next-to-new pieces, which are then displayed and sold in the Vintage Market — the retail space connected to The Blessing Board’s Oakmont warehouse. All of the profits go back to The Blessing Board, which helps offset its operating costs.
Soon after she started volunteering for The Blessing Board in 2016, Fischetti noticed many donated items were antique pieces that the people they serve don’t usually want or take.
“I told [The Blessing Board,] I said, ‘I can do something with this for you. I think I can bring you in some money.’ And they said, ‘We’ve been praying for two years for someone to come with that vision and ambition,’” Fischetti says. “It grew from painting furniture to having a section of this retail store … We just want to make something on it, you know, to help out.”
The Vintage Market is now a fully functioning showroom housing a wide variety of household goods, including formal dining room tables, delicate dinnerware sets, artwork and customizable antiques. Items can sell for hundreds of dollars.
Regardless of any family’s situation, The Blessing Board and Vintage Market serves any individual who walks through the doors.
“People don’t have to show proof of income, or need, it’s just if you can get an appointment and you can show up with a truck, you’ll be served,” Garland says. “Our motto is to love your neighbor, and everyone’s our neighbor. And so we want to kind of communicate that regardless of what you’re going through in life.”