Fresh Start gets $75,000 earmark to continue its good work

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Fresh Start gets $75,000 earmark to continue its good work
Volunteers who work at the Fresh Start Furniture Bank ready to help clients.

HUDSON — In 2013, Sue Waudby and Geoff Schultz were inspired to continue the work of a furniture bank that closed its doors in Hudson.

Waudby had volunteered at the previous furniture bank and saw how valued and needed the service was for many families.

“We felt it was really sad to see it closed down,” she said. “Somebody had opened it up, but they needed somebody to run the furniture bank.”

She came on board and was then followed by Schultz when they realized it was a two-person job to handle the bank. Schultz created a system to track the volunteers, and Fresh Start blossomed from that point.

Now, 10 years later, they still run what they call the Fresh Start Furniture Bank at 16 Brent Drive in Hudson. According to the bank’s website, it has provided furniture for over 3,500 homes and 8,800-plus people in need through 650 agencies in the state.

Waudby said they help over 600 families and individuals each year. They also have 100 volunteers and two part-time employees who put in a combined 16,000 hours last year, according to Schultz.

Earmark

On Aug. 9, Gov. Maura Healey signed her 2024 fiscal year budget, which included many earmarks for local communities, including Hudson. Fresh Start Furniture Bank received a $75,000 earmark to continue its work.

Waudby said their tagline is “Furnishing Hope.” Without the support from state Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow) in getting the earmark, she said it would be hard to keep the bank running.

“We’re volunteers so we have to raise every dollar ourselves. It helps pay the rent to be able to operate,” Waudby said.

The earmark will also help them purchase essentials like mattresses and blankets. However, any donation of good usable furniture is needed to continue to supply the increasing demand for Fresh Start’s services.

“It’s huge because it takes a village to make Fresh Start run, and without state Rep. Hogan’s support, we would have an even harder uphill battle to make this work,” she said.

How to support

Fresh Start is funded by private individuals and companies, as well as by grants they apply for, said Waudby. They are always looking for funding, she noted.

Waudby and Schultz have backgrounds in finance and software, respectively, and were retired until taking over Fresh Start and expanding the services.

Their original space was 1,200 square feet at the corner of Lincoln and Mechanic streets in Marlborough, said Schultz. Now, they have 14,000 square feet after expanding in September.

“We’ve come a long way in 10 years,” said Waudby.

To receive furniture from Fresh Start, a referral is needed from a partner agency. The majority of agencies they work with are in the MetroWest area, although there some in Western Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

Schultz noted the website has a complete map of the partners, which includes Veterans Inc., in Worcester, the Milford Housing Authority, Family Promise Metrowest in Natick and Hope House in Boston. The number and geographic range of the agencies would amaze someone, he said.

The needs for those they help can change, Waudby said, as they helped people displaced from Afghanistan and are looking to help refugees, numbering about 200 families, who have settled in the state.

“I just got out of a meeting to help all the current refugees who are in the state of Massachusetts who will be looking for assistance,” said Waudby.

And, whether someone needs a new couch or every piece of basic furniture, the bank provides that.

“There are a lot of people who need help with the state of the current economy. People who were doing okay during COVID now aren’t doing okay because everything’s gone up,” she said.

She said a big percentage of the people they aid are for reasons like natural disasters that may cause people to relocate closer to family.

Waudby believed that veterans should not want for anything as “they served our country.” That was one of her goals in running Fresh Start.

She added, “They should always be taken care of. We help a lot of veterans.”

They schedule 20 families a week with 90% of them struggling with homelessness. A table is important because it is where the family gathers to eat and do homework.

The goal is for them to be proud of their home.

Going forward, Waudby said they have started the Sweet Dreams mattress program, which is in its third year. They evolve with their clients’ needs, she noted, and the need for furniture donations is ongoing.

“We’re taking good, usable items [and] putting them in the hands of people who need them,” said Waudby.

She noted the ultimate role that they serve was providing items, like a microwave, mattress, couch or kitchen table, in a house that “make it a home.”

“You can have four walls. You can have a front door. You can have all that, but without the items we provide, you don’t have a home,” she said.

For information about how to donate furniture, get help or a referral from one of the agencies Fresh Start collaborates with, visit http://freshstartfurniturebank.org.

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