Sacred Heart University Donates Furniture to Needy

News Story:

“Dorm furniture graduates to new career.” So read the headline in last year’s Sun Herald, Southern Mississippi’s daily newspaper. The furniture in question came from Sacred Heart University, and the “new career” involved furnishing homes for those whose lives had been upturned by the disastrous hurricanes of 2005. In all, the University has donated at least nine trailer truck-loads of furniture to recipients in Mississippi, New York and Maine, and more locally in Stratford, Connecticut.

A couple of years ago, explained Larry Wielk, Sacred Heart University’s dean of students, Jenna Gallagher, a resident assistant from Newburgh, New York, returned to campus after doing volunteer work in southern Mississippi during the summer. She and her dad, Frank Gallagher, were helping rebuild the region following the trauma of Katrina. When she saw that her dormitory was being emptied of student furnishings, she asked if they could be put to use where she knew there was a crying need: on the Gulf Coast. The answer was immediate: Yes.

Dean Wielk noted that Sacred Heart, like every major residential college, refreshes its stock of furniture from time to time. While some pieces may show more wear-and-tear than others, it is usual that student rooms are refurbished at the same time to ensure a uniform and attractive atmosphere and to be sure that all furniture is up to date and safe to use.

On occasion, Wielk explained, area agencies for the homeless or church groups have approached the University to ask about donations of furniture. Typically, the requests are in response to a specific need such as a house fire and come on an irregular basis. This makes it difficult for the University to act. Too often, the dorm furniture would simply be disposed of. While expensive and wasteful, there was no organized way to make better use of it.

The Biloxi recycling effort fit perfectly with Sacred Heart’s mission of outreach to the marginalized and needy and ended up costing about the same as disposing of the furniture locally. It led to similar efforts in the Gallaghers’ hometown of Newburgh and in Orland, Maine, where the furniture is made available to those in need. In Stratford, dorm furnishings are stored in conjunction with local Habitat for Humanity efforts. Especially popular have been wardrobes and dressers. The University’s campus chapter of Habitat has been recognized as one of the top five efforts in the country, and as people move into new homes, they have access to serviceable and attractive furniture. While some furnishings such as sofas and side chairs come from common living spaces, the bulk of the pieces is gathered from student rooms: beds, dressers, desk and chairs.

Dean Wielk pointed out that the University initially hired a truck to help distribute the furniture. In a move designed for efficiency and cost-savings, the University bought a truck of its own and employs students over the summer to help with the work load.

In the same way that University alumni are fanning out across the country and making their contributions to their new communities, so too have SHU’s old residence hall furnishings, which are helping improve the lives of people in need while communicating an important lesson about Sacred Heart University’s values.