Cornell breathes new life into used furniture and helps those in need

Randy Jackson, a retired pastor with Frontline Ministries in Elmira, New York, remembers stopping in front of a seven-year-old girl’s home with a suite loaded onto the back of a truck: a bed frame and mattress, desk, chair and bookcase – used but functional dorm room furniture donated by Cornell.

“This was a little girl who had nothing, who came to church in the same dirty dress every week, who slept on the floor,” Jackson said. “When she saw the furniture, she said ‘Is that mine? Is this really mine? It made the whole team cry. When I see the faces of these children, my heart races.”

The donation was part of efforts by Denise Hubbard, Student and Campus Life (SCL) inventory coordinator, to reduce waste in Cornell’s residential buildings and, where possible, reach out to those in need. Since beginning her tenure at Cornell in 2018, she has coordinated the donation of 6,650 items, primarily to local nonprofits, and arranged for the repair of more than 2,400 items for on-campus reuse, relocating or storing them for future use. future.

“Anything I can rehome, I try to rehome,” said Hubbard. “For me, it’s personal. We are leaving this planet to our children – I have three children myself – and if something is structurally sound and still has life in it, I want to try to help people and keep that furniture out of the landfill.”

The donations had a lasting impact on the community. Cornell donated more than 100 used suites as well as living room furniture to Jackson and his wife’s nonprofit, Let Elmira Live, which served low-income and underprivileged youth in Chemung County until the Jacksons’ retirement in 2021. arranged for the donation of chests of drawers and oak tables to help furnish Second Wind Cottages, 18 cottages in Newfield, New York, that provide temporary and transitional housing for homeless men. When residents find employment and move into their own apartments, they can take all their furniture with them.

“This furniture will help them settle in independently and they can keep it forever,” said Amy Bach, Volunteer Endowment Coordinator for Second Wind Cottages. “We don’t have the money to go out and buy furniture for the houses every time someone moves in – we are totally dependent on the community – and our employees are really grateful and really surprised that everything was donated. It’s kind of hard for them to believe that people in the community care about them so much. It means a lot that Cornell is willing to share what they have.”

Additional donations were made to nonprofit organizations Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, Ithaca ReUse Center, Thrifty Shopper (run by Rescue Mission), Significant Elements, Sunflower Housing Program for Ex-Prisoners, and Glove House, which supports low-income families. , between others. Hubbard also worked with social services departments in several counties.

Hubbard will be honored with the 2022 President’s Award for Employee Excellence in the new “Culture of Sustainability” category, which recognizes employees who have contributed to the creation of a sustainable campus, community and culture.

Hubbard said the existing culture around sustainability at Cornell — from peers to students to faculty — made his work possible. She also credited the support of her boss, Nianne Vanfleet, SCL’s assistant director of facilities management.

“I started bombarding her with questions and she started investigating for me,” Hubbard said. “She has been an incredible support for my position. I don’t think I would have done a quarter of what I did without her by my side.”

Looking to the future, Hubbard plans to cast an even wider net. She is connected with FEMA to donate items to flood victims in Kentucky and is even in talks with the International Reuse Network to send items to people in Ukraine.

Of all the donations she arranged, Hubbard said providing beds for children was the most rewarding. “When you hear that you’re making that difference, it’s really exciting,” she said. “This could be in a landfill, but instead it’s keeping a child or a teenager, a teenager off the ground.”

Jackson said the goodwill and ingenuity of people like Hubbard give his work added impact. “It’s not easy running a nonprofit – we’re always on edge,” he said. “To find someone like Denise who has the courage to put these things to good use, and Cornell to give the go-ahead – people need to understand how valuable this is to the nonprofit and the community. For people like me who are trying to keep kids moving, it really helps us a lot to sustain and make kids’ lives so much better.”

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