The Houston Furniture Bank

The Houston Furniture Bank, moved to its current location , at 8220 Mosley Road in 2015, all photos courtesy of Houston Furniture Bank unless otherwise noted.

Imagine how it feels to be without a bed, a table and chairs, or a dresser and a couch. “It is estimated that three hundred thousand children sleep on the floor in this great city of Houston, Texas,” exclaimed Oli Mohammed, founder of the Houston Furniture Bank, which celebrated its twenty-sixth anniversary on March 30, 2019.[1]  What exactly is the Houston Furniture Bank, you might wonder. For starters, it is not a typical bank, which created some confusion initially. Oli recalls with amusement that, when founding the furniture bank, he had to get permission from the Texas Banking Commission before the organization could register the name using the word “bank.” The Houston Furniture Bank was not dealing with money, but with something worth more, the love for families who were looking at financial hardship, life transitions, or had come to the city as newly arrived refugees. The furniture bank’s slogan is “to make empty houses homes,” and with it, they provide “a little bit of dignity” to the people living in those homes by taking care of their needs with furniture.

Shown left to right, Pam Goodfriend, member of the board; Steve Finger, chairman of the board at that time; Susie White, member of the board representing the Houston Apartment Association at the time; and Oli Mohammed, founder,  paint the new warehouse in 1998.
Shown left to right, Pam Goodfriend, member of the board; Steve Finger, chairman of the board at that time; Susie White, member of the board representing the Houston Apartment Association at the time; and Oli Mohammed, founder,  paint the new warehouse in 1998.

The first years presented challenges that required a lot of footwork. Oli borrowed a truck and started going to apartment association meetings and knocking on the doors of furniture companies and retailers. Jodie Hoffer, owner of Hoffer Furniture, was one of the original supporters of the furniture bank. Initially, the mission of the Houston Furniture Bank was to provide furniture to families or individuals who were transitioning from mental health facilities back into society, but the mission eventually expanded. The first pilot program was a success and the furniture bank collected furniture for 140 families.

From 1992 into 1995, the furniture bank served the MHMRA clients only and, in the middle of 1995, opened its doors to other agencies.  By 1997 the bank provided furniture to 487 clients and donations were organized through companies like Star Furniture, Oak Crafters Furniture, Hoffer Furniture, Tandem Staffing, Kaplan Educational Centers, Houston Apartment Association, Cotton Moving & Storage, and Bankhead Thompson Media. The furniture bank’s slogan at the time was “Just Donate it!”[

Choosing furniture
Oli assists an HFB recipient picking out furniture.

Hurricane Harvey

At HFB’s  twenty-sixth anniversary celebration, Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed March 30, 2019, as Houston Furniture Bank Day in the City of Houston. Shown left to right: Houston Mayor Turner, Oli Mohammed, HFB board chairman Hal Lynde, and HFB board vice chairman Larry Cress.

Houstonians will never forget 2017 after Hurricane Harvey hovered over the city for days. The storm left most of Houston underwater, and the disaster caused $125 billion in damage, the second most costly hurricane since 1900. An estimated 13 million people were affected by Hurricane Harvey alone, and nearly 135,000 homes were damaged or destroyed throughout Texas. Although the Houston Furniture Bank could not open for a few days after Harvey, when the doors finally did open, Oli got to work calling many companies in the mattress and furniture business to ask for help. The excitement to help caused shipments of trailers after trailers, totaling twenty-three trailers of furniture and mattresses, from within Houston and nationally.

In mid-September, people started to line up outside the furniture bank, which caused problems since HFB can only serve up to seventy families per day. People had to show some proof of their damage, usually from FEMA. When Oli came in at 5:00 a.m. he started noticing people sleeping outside on the parking lot. The crowds got difficult, and it had to come to a halt. The furniture bank began to reroute people through agencies, requiring them to come in by appointment, which made things go smoother. To speed up the process, HFB issued families a Harvey package, which included a mattress, box spring, and an individual furniture piece. The furniture bank has helped three thousand families affected by Hurricane Harvey thanks to a $750,000 grant from the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Grants have also come from the Red Cross and other organizations totaling over $1.5 million to purchase furniture and mattresses since the storm hit.  The Harvey program will be coming to an end in September of 2019.

Richard Mitchell, the HFB distribution manager, and Romie de Leon attend the twenty-sixth anniversary celebration; Romie was one of the furniture bank’s beneficiaries. Visit the Houston History magazine’s website to hear Romi’s story.

Romie de Leon was one of the furniture bank’s beneficiaries. She came to Houston in 2007, and through the help of organizations like Bridges over Troubled Waters she was able to overcome and had furniture delivered to her apartment by HFB in 2008. She now works for HCMH and was invited to the twenty-sixth-anniversary celebration with current Mayor Sylvester Turner. She shared her experience and says, “There are no words to describe the joy in my heart when the Houston Furniture Bank brought furniture for my apartment. It was the beginning of a new life for me and they were there to help me succeed.” Romie now does the same for other families in need. Through the HCMH, she sets up an appointment and takes them to the HFB and gets to rejoice with the families when they pick out their furniture, bringing the experience full circle.

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