Editor's Note: Solon Patch Local Editor Chris Mazzolini will be taking part in the Solon Celebrity Chili Cookoff today (Sept. 29) at 5 p.m. at Solon United Methodist Church. Money from the event goes to a bunch of local celebrities. This is one of them, which Solon Patch wrote about in August 2011. We're reprinting the article as a sort-of preview for the chili cookoff. It's an example of the great work being done by the charities featured in the cookoff.
There are too many needy people with empty homes. Solon resident Joan Groening is trying to change that, one piece of furniture at a time.
For now, she really wants to find some beds and gently used matresses.
"We have 17 children sleeping on floors right now," Groening said. "We have a family now with four children sleeping on a twin bed."
Groening, a Solon resident for 62 years, runs a nonprofit group called Hands, Hearts & Homes Outreach, a group that started as Advent Lutheran Church's furniture ministry about six years ago. The group collects unwanted furniture and donates it, free of charge, to people in need.
They work closely with Advent Lutheran, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church's Hearts for Hunger program and Project Save.
The clients are people from all walks of life. What they hold in common is that they are struggling. Many are transitioning out of homeless shelters or domestic violence facilities. Others were just released from prison. Some lost everything in fires.
In the last six years, Groening estimates the group has helped about 500 to 600 families in need. She said she works 60 hours a week coordinating furniture pickups and deliveries and does whatever else she can.
"I'm retired, and this is a full-time job for me," she said.
The charity got started after a representative from the 2100 Lakeside Emergency Men's Shelter came to speak about their needs. One of the largest needs was furniture.
Groening, whose grandfather owned Solon Upholstery, knew she could help there. Her son had an old rusty pickup that the two of them used to "toodle around Solon" picking up furniture.
"We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies," she said.
Groening said she was only going to help for a few months, but when she was dropping off furniture once, a man at a charity organization said something that renewed her committment.
"He said 'I don't know where we are ever going to get enough,'" Groening remembered him saying.
Groening said the program has been growing since then. She said they helped 102 families last year.
She said her hopes for the group are to expand into an umbrella group that has a number of charity arms that can address different problems. They are also building a website, but that's still under development.
Right now, Groening's focus is on the upcoming garage sale at Advent Lutheran. The sale, which runs Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will raise money for the charity.
Groening said their biggest cost is fuel for the furniture truck. Right now, they borrow a truck from a realty company, but Groening said they would love to get their own truck.
No one in the group is paid and no one is bothered for donations.
"We ask nothing from people we are picking up from and we ask nothing from people we are giving to," she said.
Would you like to help?
If you would like to volunteer or would like to donate furniture, call 440-248-7360 and leave a detailed message.