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Beds For Kids Marks 10 Years Of Turning Houses Into Homes In Charlotte

Malcolm Graham, executive director of Beds for Kids
David Boraks
Beds for Kids Executive Director Malcolm Graham, who also is a Charlotte City Council member, says the group tries to help people make empty houses into homes by delivering beds and other furniture.

There's a lot of energy going into expanding affordable housing in Charlotte. But for people moving out of hotels or homelessness, the need doesn't stop there. Furnishing that new place can be a struggle. A Charlotte group called Beds for Kids is celebrating 10 years of fighting what it calls "furniture poverty."

Makeba Daniels and her four kids spent the past six years living in an extended stay hotel off W.T. Harris Boulevard.

"It was kind of tough — four kids going to school and dealing with the transition and all the different-ness that goes on at hotels, you know," Daniels said. "You never know what really goes on until you have to live there."

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David Boraks
Beds for Kids workers deliver furniture to a south Charlotte resident on May 4.

Then, earlier this year, Daniels was accepted into a program that moved her and her kids to a four-bedroom rental house off Graham Street in Charlotte's north end. Suddenly, she needed furniture.

Daniels' housing coordinator and the kids' school both referred her to Beds for Kids. It's what some people might call a "furniture bank" in Charlotte, founded a decade ago to help families like Daniels'.

"When they came over, oh my God, they furnished my whole house," Daniels said, fighting back tears. "They gave everybody beds. We have a kitchen table. It was just a big blessing to know that you're coming from not really having much of anything to having much of everything — and what's needed for your home."

She said she never could have afforded it on her own.

"To have to pay money for beds, do you know how much it would cost for a mattress and the box spring? So yeah, I'm just so forever grateful," Daniels said.

Thousands of families across Charlotte every year get new roofs over their heads but find themselves struggling to furnish their apartments, said Beds for Kids Executive Director Malcolm Graham, who's also a member of City Council.

"They finally get that big break," Graham said. "They're moving into an apartment. They pay their security deposit. They pay their first month's rent. They turn on the Duke power. They get their cable, which is now your other utility, right? It's not for entertainment anymore. And then they move in, and they don't have any money left for furniture."

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David Boraks
Kevin Warren in the Beds for Kids warehouse on South Tryon Street. The organization will move to a much larger warehouse this summer

That's where Beds for Kids comes in.

"We turn that house, that apartment into a home, where someone has the dignity of sleeping in a bed, the dignity of sitting at a kitchen table, having breakfast with their family, the dignity of having popcorn at night on the sofa watching a movie," Graham said.

Graham has been running Beds for Kids since March 2020. He took over from Daniel Fogarty, who co-founded the group in 2011 and remains on the board of directors.

Back then, Fogarty discovered that thousands of Charlotte families face the same struggle as Daniels. Beds for Kids started with a 300-square-foot storage unit off South Boulevard and delivered 282 beds that year. Now, the organization has an 11,000-square-foot warehouse on South Tryon Street near Remount Road, a budget of just over $1 million and serves 1,600 families a year.

All the furniture is donated — most by residents but some by companies or other organizations.

"We tell folks, 'Whatever makes your house a home is what we take out to our families,'" said Kevin Warren, who oversees operations for Beds for Kids.

"Everything starts with a bed," Warren said. "But from that, as families need, we'll put a dresser in the bedroom. We'll put upholstered furniture in the den, coffee table, end table, a lot of different things."

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David Boraks
Beds for Kids delivers all kinds of furniture, including lamps. A school principal suggested adding lamps after learning that many of his students had only lightbulbs in barely furnished apartments.

Beds for Kids delivers kitchen sets, so families don't have to eat on the floor. The organization also delivers lamps, recommended about six years ago by a school principal who saw that many of his students had only a lightbulb overhead for studying. And it delivers desks. Graham said over the past year, Beds for Kids delivered about 500 desks for kids learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families do pay a processing fee of $100 for a house full of furniture or $60 for just beds. Warren says sometimes Beds for Kids waives the fee on the spot if staff members see that a family has more pressing needs.

Graham likes to call Beds for Kids the "best-kept secret in Charlotte." His goal is to change that and to keep growing. This summer, Beds for Kids will move into a new warehouse that will double its space for storage, Graham said:

"It will allow us to accept more furniture, serve more families and to really kind of redefine who we are, right?"

As Beds for Kids enters its second decade, Graham said he's trying "to raise our flag to let people know who we are and what we do."

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.