Furniture Friends Executive Director Jenn McAdoo and board member Frank Higiro are gearing up for an Oct. 2 fundraiser. Higiro, originally from Rwanda, said the nonprofit’s work eases the transition for New Mainers and others who are struggling to set up households. Chance Viles / American Journal

When Frank Higiro arrived in Maine from Rwanda to Maine in 2015, he found a place to live but he had no furniture. He ate his meals on the floor and slept there, too.

Hospitality is a big part of Rwandan culture, Higiro said, so when a friend visited him at his new home, it was a blow to his dignity.

“My friend rang the doorbell, and I welcomed him in my home. I had nothing,” Higiro said.  “We had to stand there, or we could sit on the blanket that I was sleeping on.  It touched him. He did not know I was living that way, and I lived that way for months.”

Furniture Friends tries to keep a range of furniture in stock to meet demand. Delivery is available, but clients who show up at the Westbrook warehouse can select specific pieces. Chance Viles / American Journal

Higiro is now a member of the board of Furniture Friends, a Westbrook-based nonprofit that provides furnishings to people in need in Greater Portland, and he’s helping the group prepare for a fundraiser next month.

Had he found Furniture Friends sooner, he would have had a smoother transition with more self-esteem while working to learn English and find meaningful work, he said.

Started in 2012, the nonprofit collects donated furniture and distributes it to low-income families and individuals struggling to set up their homes with basic furnishings. It has provided household furniture to more than 530 families this year in Portland, Westbrook, Gorham, Yarmouth, Falmouth, Cumberland, South Portland, Scarborough Cape Elizabeth and Cumberland, according to Executive Director Jenn McAdoo. In 2012, it served about 30 families.

Recipients include families from Maine, immigrants, those recently released from incarceration and veterans.

“We are doing a project now with the 100 Veterans Challenge now, and through that, we are serving any vet who needs furniture who gets housed anywhere in the state,” McAdoo said.

Furniture Friends works to keep a large stock of furniture on hand. When new affordable housing becomes available, tables go quickly, McAdoo said. Other times, such as when there’s an influx of refugees to the area, beds are in higher demand.

Higiro said the months he spent without furniture took a toll on him emotionally.

“It started to feel like a cycle. I felt despair,  like would things ever get better for me,” Higiro said. “I had a life and all of these things before I came here, and not being able to have someone over and sit over a table hurt.”

On Oct. 2, the organization will host its second annual virtual slumber party fundraiser with the goal of bringing in $75,000 to purchase about 750 beds for donation. Participants will raise money alone or in teams while sleeping on the floor for a night.  The event will kick off at 7 p.m. with a gathering on Zoom and Facebook Live, hosted by Blake Hayes and Kelly Towle from Coast 93.1, followed by a 7:30 pm bedtime story read by a surprise guest.

Last year’s virtual slumber party raised nearly $40,000 through 120 fundraisers and over 390 donors, exceeding Furniture Friend’s initial $15,000 goal. This year, Furniture Friends has partnered with DIY Channel’s “Maine Cabin Masters” show. Participants can enter a raffle to win a visit for themselves and three guests to a filming site for a behind-the-scenes tour.

For more information, visit furniturefriends.org.

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