Alyssa Lightner separated from her husband in April, leaving home with her four children and little else, other than clothes and a few toys.
Lightner, who had given birth to her infant son in March, found a three-bedroom rental house in Edgewood with no furnishings. She and the children slept and ate meals on mattresses or blankets on the floor. Folded clothes were placed either in closets or off to the side of the room, she said.
“I just moved, literally, on faith,” Lightner said Thursday.
Her children — 9-year-old twin son and daughter, a 4-year-old daughter and her now 6-month-old son — kept asking her when they could get furniture, “when they could sleep on a bed,” Lightner recalled.
“I kept telling them, ‘God will provide, just hold on, be patient,’” Lightner said.
The 31-year-old works for Empowering Minds Resource Center, a nonprofit mental health agency based in Edgewood, according to its website.
An online search led her to Found in Faith Ministries, a Joppa-based nonprofit that collects donated furniture and home goods and provides them to families in need.
Lightner contacted the agency, and by May, she received a full set of home furnishings, such as beds, a living room set, a kitchen table and chairs, even dressers and nightstands. She said it was “amazing” just for her children to be able to put their clothes in a dresser.
“It makes such a difference,” she said. “My house looks like a home now.”
Found in Faith is formed
Founder Alicia Hamilton began developing Found in Faith Ministries in 2015 to help people pass along unwanted or un-needed furniture, help people in need obtain home furnishings and bring more attention to the hundreds of nonprofits in Harford County working to help local residents. She had not determined, however, whether to do that through a for-profit venture or a nonprofit organization.
“There’s just so many people doing good work in this county that are under the radar,” Hamilton, 37, of Bel Air, said.
One of the first people she assisted was a young woman Hamilton met while working at Arrow Child and Family Ministries’ transitional living house in Belcamp. Hamilton no longer worked for Arrow, but she remained in touch with the young woman who had lived in the transitional house. Hamilton learned about her need for home furnishings in the apartment she obtained after aging out of the foster care system.
“She sent me pictures, and she had absolutely nothing except a twin mattress on the floor and her clothes,” Hamilton recalled.
Hamilton contacted friends she knew through the CrossFit fitness program, and they pulled together enough items to fully furnish the young woman’s apartment.
“I realized my heart was on the nonprofit serving side” rather than for-profit, Hamilton said.
She spent about a year and a half conducting research and meeting others who collected and distributed furniture.
Hamilton linked up with Evelyn McSorley, the coordinator for a small furniture ministry at Bel Air United Methodist Church, and later Mildred Hopkins, a volunteer at the Welcome One Emergency Shelter in Belcamp and operator of a furniture ministry at her church, Fallston Presbyterian. Hamilton attends Freedom Church in Bel Air.
There were five people in the Found in Faith fold by April 2016, including Hamilton, McSorley, Hopkins, Peter Kirby, who ran a furniture ministry in Timonium, and “go-getter volunteer” Lee Alexis, Hamilton said.
The group decided to form a non-profit entity to better combine individual efforts, plus make it easier to obtain funding and bring in more volunteers, Hamilton said.
They recruited a board and submitted an application for nonprofit status, which was granted in late 2017.
The organization had been using an 800-square-foot former house on the Bel Air United Methodist campus as its base of operations, storing furniture there, until moving into its current 4,800-square-foot facility at 610 Towne Center Drive in February.
An open house is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 11 from 4 to 7 p.m.
The new facility gives Found in Faith more space, such as a showroom where recipients can check out the furniture, but it also means greater costs for the organization. Found in Faith does not have to pay rent until February 2019, but it will be about $2,200 a month after that, according to Hamilton.
The organization is working to raise $60,000 to cover the next two years of facility expenses, which Hamilton estimates will be $2,700 a month, including rent and other operational costs.
Financial contributions come from individuals, businesses and grants, and the nonprofit is “looking to build up the grant piece,” Hamilton said. There are also sponsorship opportunities in exchange for getting one’s name on a room in the facility.
About 25 to 30 people volunteer with Found in Faith, including its leaders — Hamilton is the founder and acting executive director; McSorley is the program director and a board member; and Hopkins is a regular volunteer. Alexis remains a volunteer, helping to transport furniture. Kirby, of Timonium, is no longer involved with Found in Faith, according to Hamilton.
There are four active board members, and the organization is recruiting for three more open spots on the board.
There is no charge to receive furniture, and there is no charge to donate it, although there is a suggested contribution of at least $20 if the organization picks up donations, Hamilton said.
Donations come from people moving, downsizing their homes or giving away possessions of deceased relatives.
“When they can pass it along to us, it definitely becomes a part of the healing process for them, because their loved one’s items aren’t going to the dump or the junkyard,” Hamilton said. “They’re actually going to give someone a fresh new start.”
In addition to furniture, families can obtain home goods such as kitchen items, bedding, lamps, rugs and small appliances.
Many families are referred to the organization through county agencies, or community organizations such as SARC, the United Way or the Harford Community Action Agency, according to Hamilton.
Found in Faith serves 15 to 20 families a month, and about the same number of families donate each month, according to Hamilton.
Hamilton said it can be “really discouraging” for families to get back on their feet and secure housing, only to walk through their front door and see nothing. Found in Faith helps those families avoid the additional costs of buying or leasing furniture.
She noted “our clients are excited and have momentum going.”