COLUMBIA — Earlier this year, Karen Robinson was trying to cobble together enough money to rent an apartment.
The 51-year-old school bus driver and single mother had sold her home in Columbia so she could move to New Mexico to be with her mother. When the situation abruptly changed and Robinson ended up staying in Columbia, she was short of funds.
That's when Love in the Name of Christ (Love INC) and The Love Seat furniture ministry stepped in to help. They not only covered a deposit, but also provided a dresser and a bed for Robinson's 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, as well as a futon.
“It’s like in the old days," Robinson said. "When I was brought up, churches and people would get together and help somebody that had a need. It didn’t matter who you were, what your race was or your income. They would help."
Love INC is a national organization with a Columbia affiliate that provides churches with an opportunity to work together to help those in need though a variety of ministries.
It began in Columbia 18 months ago, and since then, the organization has been able to serve more than 1,000 people and had more than 7,000 volunteer hours logged. In October, The Love Seat was launched to provide basic furniture — tables, chairs, mattresses and sofas.
According to information on the Love INC Web site, 75 percent of The Love Seat's deliveries of beds go to children who were sleeping on the floor. Public schools may refer students who have no beds, or share a bed with several siblings.
"Furniture makes a house a home and brings a sense of stability and security," said Love INC Executive Director Randy Hodill. "No child should sleep on the floor in our community."
These situations also demand a response: house fires, family crises or illnesses, domestic abuse, refugee resettlement and job loss.
Robinson, who found out about Love INC through the Christian Fellowship Church, was grateful to cross one worry off her list.
“It alleviates some of the stress," she said. "You know that the funds you have can be funneled someplace else instead of having to think ‘Well I’ve got to get a couch; I’ve got to get this.’”
Now, whenever Robinson has something she doesn't need, she posts it on The Freecycle Network, with the hope that someone else might have a use for it.
"There’s always somebody that has less than I do," she said. "It’s always good to help somebody else, because in turn you get helped or God blesses you when you have a need."
Nancy Cady and her husband, parishioners at St. Thomas More Newman Center, have been putting furniture in the homes of families who are struggling. They have been volunteering since Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area and 500 residents relocated to Columbia.
"We found that there were a lot of local needs here," Cady, 51, said. "It's not just in disasters. It's all the time."
The Cadys took on the furniture ministry as volunteers, in addition to their full-time jobs. Chris is an environmental chemist in the Hazardous Waste Program of the Department of Natural Resources. Nancy is a registered nurse with the Child Abuse Prevention program in the Missouri office of the United Methodist Church.
"It's a way we can give them a little bit of hope," she said. "Let them know they're not in this difficult situation by themselves."
Before The Love Seat received 4,000 square feet of donated warehouse space from Phillippe Automobile Refinishing, the ministry worked out of a slightly smaller warehouse space. When no warehouse space was available, furniture was stored in the garages of friends, families and volunteers.
"Our cars were outside in the freezing winter because we used our garage to store furniture," Cady said.
A furniture drive held in late October helps stock the warehouse for the winter. The Love Seat also receives donations of mattresses from hotels when they change out their beds every couple years, as well as smaller donations from other stores around town.
The warehouse doesn't stay full for long, though. Love INC receives about 150 calls for assistance every month. In the past few months with people losing jobs and moving often, Cady said the most common request is for furniture.
Those in need of furniture must first contact the office and describe their situation and background to see what other services might be needed besides furnishings.
"We try to avoid the Band-Aid approach," Cady said. The organization tries to find more permanent solutions, such as job search training, classes on budgeting and transportation services.
Volunteers use a donated 1988 U-Haul with 274,000 miles on it. Those who deliver furniture say it can be an eye-opening experience.
“It’s shocking for those of us who are so blessed to see people with nothing in their house,” Cady said.
But after seeing a child bounce on her new bed after sleeping on the floor, she said she felt a different kind of emotion.
“It reminds me of 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.' It grows your heart three times.”
While Love INC is backed by the support of more than 50 churches, The Love Seat in particular needs funds to continue providing furniture. Free rent on the warehouse runs out at the end of the year, and the maintenance and fuel costs of operating a U-Haul with shoddy power steering are escalating.
A sidewalk sale recently generatedmore than $1,000. Love INC would like to eventually open a resale store with pots and pans, appliances, televisions and other secondary items.
To make a donation or volunteer, contact the Love INC office at (573) 256-7662 or go to columbialoveinc.org.