Furnishing Hope

May 2020 View more

Sharing Connections just might be one of the best-kept secrets in Downers Grove. Sure, you may have heard of them—after all, they have been around for over 35 years. You may have even donated furniture and other gently used household items to them. But what many people don’t realize is that Sharing Connections does so much more than give impoverished families some furniture. The nonprofit gives its clients the chance to turn their houses into homes, as well as hope for the next chapter of their lives.

“Yes, we provide much-needed furniture and clothing, but it’s so much more than that,” explains CEO Ryan Varju. “Many of our employees and volunteers have overcome a similar crisis. It’s this experience that gives us the opportunity to share in the experience with our clients. We truly do furnish hope, one person at a time.”

The nonprofit partners with over 200 hospitals, municipalities, and social service agencies to reach disadvantaged families who have empty or severely underfurnished homes. “We mainly serve DuPage, Will, Cook, and Kane Counties, but if our partner agents work with people in other counties, they are also welcome to our services,” explains Beth Carey, director of development. “We also have in-house case managers for those who aren’t working with a partner agency.”

Like a lot of charities, Sharing Connections started as a grassroots effort. In 1986 Leeanne McGrath began gathering donated cribs and accessories from her friends and neighbors and giving them to families in need. Word spread and Sharing Connections quickly grew. In 2001, Sharing Connections moved from McGrath’s garage to its current location in Downers Grove. Since then it has expanded into a 13,000-square-foot warehouse filled with donations from community members and local businesses. “It’s a furniture warehouse, but we also have all kinds of household items, clothes, home goods, and knickknacks. Anything that makes a house a home,” explains Diane Boyd, a volunteer at Sharing Connections.

When assessing a client’s needs, Boyd works hard to put them at ease. “Many times, people are embarrassed or depressed about their situation. Some of their stories are so sad,” says Boyd. While she takes them around the warehouse to pick out furniture, other volunteers put together linens, kitchen items, and whatever else they may need. They are also able to pick out clothes for their families. For a finishing touch, Boyd encourages them to take whatever items they like from a vast array of donated candles, pictures, and other knickknacks. “It’s those little things that will personalize and really finish up their homes. By the time they leave, there are always big smiles on their face and tears in their eyes. They have hope. It’s a start. It’s a new chapter for them. It really makes you feel good.”

Since 1986, Sharing Connections has furnished this hope to over 122,974 individuals. In December the nonprofit transforms its warehouse into a winter wonderland filled with toys, winter clothing, and other gifts. Around 500 DuPage County families benefit from the program annually.

Sharing Connections accepts donations at its Downer Grove warehouse Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are available onsite to help unload. The organization also has volunteers available to pick up large furniture items from your home. To see what items are eligible or to sign up for a pickup, visit sharingconnections.org.

“At Sharing Connections, we are just ordinary people helping our neighbors,” Carey states. “It feels more like a family. We are just doing what we love—taking care of folks around us.”

Photo Courtesy Sharing Connections