Bob Myers of Castle Shannon works in the mission field every day, but he doesn't have to pack a suitcase or board an airplane to get there. He simply walks out his front door.
Mr. Myers is the executive director of Off the Floor Pittsburgh, a local Christian volunteer ministry that provides used furniture to disadvantaged families.
"There are folks living all over Allegheny County and the greater Pittsburgh area that are in need of basic home furnishings," he said. "They just have no means to afford it or come up with it through any means of their own. It's an ongoing need."
The organization was founded in August 2004 after a member of Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church felt called to help a woman with two young daughters who were living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and were eating and sleeping on the floor. Rallying volunteers from the church, they delivered furniture to the family, only to discover that many more families in the neighborhood were in need as well.
The church took it on as an outreach project and helped nearly a dozen families the first year. Since then, Off the Floor Pittsburgh has helped 850 families and 1,600 children living in more than 50 ZIP codes in the greater Pittsburgh area. Last year, they helped a record 160 families, which was far above their average of around 100.
"I don't think that they ever expected us to get as big as we are," Mr. Myers said.
As a result of this growth, he said, the organization took a big leap of faith this year and separated from the church to become an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Off the Floor Pittsburgh provides what Mr. Myers described as the basics and those things that help pull a family together, such as places to sit, a place to eat together and a good places to sleep.
He said the majority of homes they deliver to have little to no furniture at all.
Just last week, he said, he delivered a table and chairs, living room furniture, and beds to a woman and her 1-year-old son whose apartment was solely furnished with a blow-up mattress. By the time he left, he said, it was starting to look like a home.
"We know that we are going in there and making a huge difference for that family," he said. "You can't help but walk away knowing that the kids in that house are going to have a bed tonight or they are going to be able to sit and have a meal at a table, not sitting at a cardboard box that they put the food on."
Mr. Myers described himself as a "working director" and can often be found repairing furniture and making deliveries when needed in addition to focusing on program development and working on relationships with other organizations.
"I do whatever job needs to be done to keep us moving," he said.
He joined the organization in August 2011 after working for the Salvation Army for 32 years as the director of emergency disaster services. He said it was a natural fit and that his background has served him well in his understanding of client assistance and the logistics of moving donations and releasing supplies.
As executive director, he said, his goals are to improve service, delivery and quality of furnishings in addition to securing funding for the organization.
This year has started out strong as in year's past and while output has been steady, Mr. Myers said the referrals are coming in at a fast pace, resulting in a current waiting list of around four weeks for help.
While donations continually stream into the warehouse, located at the Pittsburgh Presbytery in the North Side, Mr. Myers said a lack of manpower hinders distribution.
"With just a few more bodies we would be able to push out a significant number of more deliveries per week," he said.
While six or seven teams from local churches volunteer their time on a rotating basis, Mr. Myers said the organization needs more volunteers to make deliveries, fix and refinish furniture, clean and paint dressers, and fold sheets.
Other needs include donations of good, usable dressers; new bed sheets, blankets, comforters and mattress pads in queen, full, and twin sizes; and kitchen tables with matching chairs.
Mr. Myers said they do what they can to maximize the quality of the furniture they receive so that they can ultimately fulfill the vision of the organization to help people in need get "off the floor and on their feet."
"I want to give people something that they can have a little pride in so that we elevate their position in life a little bit," he said. "We really want to make an impact and help people start to gain some self-worth and self-esteem so that when they have somebody visit their home, they have a little bit of pride in what they have."
For more information, visit www.offthefloorpittsburgh.orgor call 412-926-5053.
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: email@example.com.