Adelson Santos, right, helps Friday to bring an armchair to an Angolan asylum seeker’s residence in Lewiston. Wendy Schlotterbeck, who coordinated the delivery, watches from the left. The asylum seeker did not wish to be identified. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A group of volunteers is attempting to bring a furniture bank to Lewiston, and with enough items pledged to fill two warehouses, it needs space to store them locally.

The Community In Action Team, a group of 127 local volunteers who organized through Facebook, accepts new or gently “loved” household items to donate to asylum seekers in Lewiston and Auburn.

Items accepted include beds, blankets, dishes, pots and pans, kitchen tables and couches, along with many other types of items, according to member Coleen Elias.

Elias is the chief executive officer of Community Clinical Services and one of a number of volunteers in the group. Since last February, the group has donated items to more than 180 households, according to Elias.

On a mission recently to find more than 20 beds for several families, one volunteer connected with a man who gave them beds, along with a warehouse in Brunswick and a warehouse in Boothbay full of household items, she said.

The man pledged to donate those items to the group, though the warehouse in Brunswick must be cleared out by spring.


The group would like to move those items to a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Lewiston, Elias said. It would also allow volunteers to pick up donated items and store them until there is a family in need who could use the items, she said.

“Sometimes people will have donations but we don’t have a way to get it right then and so the furniture bank would allow us to store furniture as people are willing to donate,” Elias said. “And as need comes in, we can go to that warehouse and pick out the furniture that’s appropriate for the families.”

However, the group is not a nonprofit so it is not accepting monetary donations, she said. Operating without an income makes it difficult to pay for a space, so it is hoping that someone in the area has a warehouse space to donate.

The group is keeping track of asylum seekers in need on a spreadsheet so they can be connected with items as they are received, Elias said.

Adelson Santos, right, and Wendy Schlotterbeck, left, load a couple of armchairs donated by Cindi Byrkit, background, into a truck Friday in Poland. The furniture is being provided to some Angolan women in Lewiston who are seeking asylum. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Volunteers are picking up donated items straight from someone’s home and bringing them directly to asylum seekers’ homes, according to group member Wendy Schlotterbeck.

Schlotterbeck borrowed a truck Friday to pick up and deliver two armchairs from Cindi Byrkit’s home in Poland before taking them to four asylum seekers in Lewiston.


Byrkit moved last year and decided to get rid of some items and had been trying to find places for them, she said. She found the group on Facebook, where she had received some free items previously through other swap and sell pages.

She decided to donate her parents’ 30-year-old armchairs that were still in good condition. She likely would have kept the chairs stored in her garage until trash day if the group did not take them, Byrkit said.

“I feel good about it,” Byrkit said. “I like to help when I can and I’m lucky enough I have not needed anything. … I think it’s a good way to share the bounty.”

The four asylum seekers Schlotterbeck delivered the chairs to had just moved to a new place in Lewiston and had no living room furniture.

Two of the women spoke little English, but first-year Central Maine Community College student Adelson Santos, who is from Brazil, helped translate for the Portuguese-speaking Angolans as Schlotterbeck dropped off the furniture and asked them if they were in need of any other items.

Adelson Santos, right, and Wendy Schlotterbeck unload armchairs Friday at a household of Angolan asylum seekers in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Madalena Neto and three other asylum seekers had just moved to the modest house in Lewiston after living in an apartment that had water leaks and no heat, she said. Her new landlord helped the four women move the items they did have into their new home.


Except for a box spring leaned against the living room wall, a television on a stand, some boxes in the kitchen and items on the kitchen counter, the common areas of the house were almost bare.

Neto feels fortunate to have the donated chairs because the four women would not be able to buy furniture themselves, she said. It has been difficult moving to a new country where she does not know anyone, so she is grateful to the group for its help.

Adelson Santos, right, and Wendy Schlotterbeck unload a couple of armchairs at a household of Angolan asylum seekers Friday in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Asylum seekers tend to face more barriers to services than other immigrants because of the lack of resources, Elias said. They are not eligible for federal assistance so it can take longer for asylum seekers to get a work permit.

“We’re responding to a need that the community learned about due to an influx of new Mainers,” she said.

Sometimes families are waiting months for so much as a blanket, she said. Some parents and children must sleep on the floor until they can get a bed. Sometimes asylum seekers will have food, but not enough pots and pans to cook it.

“They truly have no options unless there’s caring people in the community to help fill this need,” Elias said.

People who have items to donate may contact Elias and other volunteers at or join the group on Facebook.

Adelson Santos translated for Madalena Neto during an interview with the Sun Journal.

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