The Veterans Furniture Center (VFC) was formed in 2009 as part of an effort to address the problems of veteran homelessness and poverty, under the umbrella of United for Change.
On August 31, 2010, United for Change was granted 501(c)(3) status by the IRS. The VFC quickly became their primary focus . The initial mission was to collect, sort, and warehouse donations of used furniture and other items and make them available to veterans in need.
The initial organization struggled to keep up with demand based on limited financial resources. At that time, the only requirements for a veteran to obtain furniture were a DD-214 (military separation) and a newly signed lease for housing.
On May 15, 2016, the IRS revoked United for Change’s 501(c)(3) status for failure to file a 990. The original management and Board of Directors decided to close the operation. However, a group of the volunteers, having seen the positive impact the deliveries were making stepped forward to save the VFC. In the Fall of 2016, they took over the Board of Directors and assumed responsibility for operation and management.
The new management cleaned up the financials and filed for reinstatement of the 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. The reinstatement was granted on March 23, 2017, retroactive to the date of suspension so that all donations received during the period were eligible for preferred tax treatment.Volunteers cleaned up the warehouse, disposed of unserviceable items, and sold off unusable ones; using the funds to continue the operation.
A new policy was implemented in 2017 requiring veterans in need to be referred to the VFC by the VA. Through the relentless efforts of the volunteers, furniture deliveries continued. The VFC has delivered every week since the new management took over, including holidays.
With financial support from the Arizona Dept of Veteran Services, the Arizona Diamondbacks, local veterans’ groups, many individuals, and an understanding landlord, the VFC successfully regained its footing.However the mission was only partially successful because much of the used furniture people donated was either unserviceable or unsuited for use by the destitute veterans living in tiny apartments. Of special concern were beds. Most of the beds donated were badly worn and were often too big to fit in the tiny apartments available to these veterans.
In late 2017, the VFC received a call from a representative from Living Spaces furniture with a proposal. Living Spaces would run a Veterans Day sale of their mattress brand, and for each bed sold, Living Spaces would provide a new apartment size mattress and box spring to the VFC for the veterans, free of charge. This arrangement proved to be a major turning point for the organization , providing over 600 beds to local veterans.
In late 2017, the Board of Directors developed a plan to transition to deliver all new furniture and household goods. They defined a kit of low-cost items selected to ideally suit the needs of veterans transitioning from homelessness and fit in their tiny apartments.
This includes: for the bedroom, a new bed to sleep on, a pillow on which to lay their head, bed linens, a small dresser, and a lamp; for the living area, a recliner, a small sofa or loveseat, and a small television so they can stay in touch with the world; for the kitchen, cookware and kitchen utensils so they can prepare a meal, dishes, cups, flatware, and glasses, a small table and two chairs to sit and eat, and a two-slice toaster and a small coffee pot to prepare breakfast at home; for the bath, bath linens and a personal hygiene kit; and finally an apartment cleaning kit.
Through selective purchasing, the ability to buy in bulk and warehouse items, and discounts from retailers, the VFC can purchase everything for under $1,000.
While our partners at the VA and the social service agencies strongly endorsed the new business model, it represented a significant challenge, especially cost. The VFC budget increased from around seventy thousand dollars in 2017 to almost three-hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars in 2019. Determined to make a difference in the lives of our most destitute veterans, the VFC Board designated 2018 as the year of transition. The goal was to move from less than 20% new furniture at the beginning of 2018 (the beds from Living Spaces) to 90% new furniture and household goods by the end of the year.
To accomplish this gal, the VFC embarked on significant new fund-raising efforts, including a new outreach to individuals and local veterans’ groups, the addition of organized fund-raising events, and appeals for grants from corporations and foundations. As a result, income more than doubled in 2018 as compared to 2017, and the number of individual donors increased tenfold. The VFC volunteers exceeded the plan, and by October of 2018 deliveries consisted of 95% new items.
The 501(c)(3) was created under the name United for Change, but for years had operated as the Veterans Furniture Center. This became very confusing for donors and others. In 2018 the VFC filed with the Arizona Corporate Commission to change the name of the 501(c)(3) from United for change to Veterans Furniture Center to better reflect our mission.
The Corporate Commission approved the name change on April 23, 2018. The IRS changed the name of the charity to Veterans Furniture Center in their Approved Charity Database.
The Board also applied for recognition as a Qualifying Charitable Organization. On August 10, 2018 the Arizona Department of Revenue certified the VFC as a QCO. This certification provides individual Arizona taxpayers with tax credits of up to $800 per couple for donations made to the VFC. Many individuals have taken advantage of this tax credit, and as a result have gotten their donations back from the State of Arizona
The transition to all new items had one unforeseen side effect. The VFC’s mission is focused on helping our most destitute and needy veterans; those who without our help are at very high risk. With the advent of new furniture, we noticed a significant increase in the number of veterans referred to us by the social service agencies that did not fully meet our criteria. While they were all transitioning from homelessness, 20-25% had some source of income or other means of obtaining what they needed. After discussing this situation with the VA, the Board decided to sharpen our focus to those veterans on the HUD-VASH program. This federal program provides subsidized housing tied to ongoing medical care and counseling by the VA for destitute veterans. Unfortunately, when Congress authorized this program, they did not include any funding for furniture or household goods.
Starting in 2019, all veterans we serve must be referred to the VFC by the VA and certified to be on the HUD-VASH program.
There may be some who have been helped off the street by our social service partners, but they must be accepted by the VA for HUD-VASH and must be referred to us by the VA. Since instituting this policy, we have found almost all the veterans referred to us as being those who need our help the most.
Thanks to our volunteers and supporters, the VFC now has a firm footing and is moving forward. Since the VFC was founded, we have helped over 2,700 needy veterans, and over 300 destitute veterans were given a new lease on life as they move into permanent housing.
The VFC delivers more than furniture, we deliver hope. The VFC delivers everything they need to make their shelter into a home. It is all new, not someone else’s discard, and it belongs to them. It is given as a gift, from veterans to a fellow veteran in need. The message is clear: someone cares, someone is offering a hand up, someone has their back. It is not a government agency or an entitlement. It is fellow veterans who believe in them and want them to successfully return to society.
Together with the VA we are winning the battle against veteran homelessness in the Phoenix area, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We are sad to say that the VFC did not escape the pandemic and we missed a Friday delivery for the first time in four (4) years. We had to shut down our operation for almost three complete months, from April through June. We are happy to report that we are back on schedule with deliveries on most Fridays, but the pandemic is still having an effect on the VA’s placement of veterans. In 2020 we were able to provide deliveries for 170 veterans, in 2021 we are planning on 200+.