No one likes being stuck in the middle of something, but St. James parish in Chatham is helping parishioners by being the perfect middleman.

The parish’s OutReach furniture exchange program helps connect parishioners who have unwanted furniture with families in need of furnishings. The OutReach program expedites the delivery, and all transactions are confidential.

Denise Barry coordinates the OutReach program, one of many projects under the umbrella of St. James’ OutReach ministry, which focuses on supporting the needy in Columbia County.

The furniture exchange program started around 10 years ago when a parishioner had furniture to give away, but no way to move it and nowhere for it to go. Ms. Barry helped match the items with someone in need of them — and, after helping one parishioner, she just kept going.

Today, “it’s one of our most active ministries in the parish,” she said.

Ms. Barry has help running the program, thanks to volunteers. If a parishioner or other Chatham-area resident has an item to give away, the person can contact the furniture exchange team. It’s always worked out that either one of the families involved in the exchange or a volunteer has had a truck or van to move the donated furniture.

Furniture exchange volunteers pick the furniture item up from the donor’s home and drop it off at the recipients’, all at no cost.

In addition to moving items like couches, beds and chairs, the OutReach program also accepts small household appliances like toasters, rugs, televisions or lampshades — “everything you can imagine in the house,” said Ms. Barry.

When a request to donate an item is received, Ms. Barry immediately tries to find a recipient. Sometimes, volunteers will know of individual families who are in need of furniture; sometimes Ms. Barry will stumble upon a connection by pure circumstance.

Once, an elderly man called, asking for the furniture exchange team to remove an old queen-sized bed so he could replace it with a twin. Ms. Barry mentioned the situation to a friend, and it turned out that person had a twin bed to give away.

“Some things are easier to place than others,” the coordinator said. “I don’t promise that I will find objects a home, but I do promise [donors] we will do whatever we can to move the objects along.”

She noted that the program “is not a furniture business” but, so far, the team has been successful with finding homes for almost all of requests they have received. If she cannot place the item with a family immediately, Ms. Barry will turn to someone like Wayne Weber, a migrant advocate, who accepts a number of donations from the OutReach program for local migrants in need of furnishings.

Ms. Barry will also call on parishioner Debra Kelsey, a social worker at Berkshire Farms Center and Services for Youth. Mrs. Kelsey collects items for families she serves, driving her pickup truck over to the donor’s home to pick up the furniture.

At times, Mrs. Kelsey has decided that the quality of an item is sub-par and does not accept it: “I say to my clients, ‘I wouldn’t have anything accepted that I wouldn’t have in my own home.’”


St. Mary’s parish in Oneonta offers a similar program, where the parish works as the middleman to get supplies from local donors to those in need.

In 2014, St. Mary’s Peace and Justice Ministries started the Needs Network program, which helps local agencies like Catholic Charities, Family Services and Turning Point, a recovery community, receive donations of everyday necessities such as shampoo, shaving cream or non-perishables.

Needs Network uses Google Groups — a service that lets people with common interests connect online — to send out weekly emails to parish volunteers, asking them to drop off certain supplies in a collection container in the church rectory.

“It truly is amazing,” said Mary-Ann Hartmann, who organizes the Needs Network. “I’m very, very grateful when a request goes out and people respond.”

Now retired, Mrs. Hartmann uses her free time to oversee the program, distributing the supplies to local agencies.

“In general, the agencies don’t come to me with requests; I go to them and say, ‘What do you need?’” she said. Local hospitals and nursing homes have requested craft items like paint, glue or cleaned-out yogurt containers; Mrs. Hartmann would send an email alert to donors, and they would respond in force.

There are now approximately 100 donors receiving emails from the Needs Network. Mrs. Hartmann tries to remind them to look around the house first before going shopping for requested items.

“It’s an easy way for people to give without a lot of effort on their part,” she said of the program.

(For more information on the OutReach furniture exchange program, call Ms. Barry at 518-929-4369. For more information about the Needs Network, call St. Mary’s parish at 607-432-3920.)