Imagine you are forced to flee your home, leaving behind your cherished belongings, arriving in a foreign country with two suitcases and barely enough to feed your family. Traumatized by the horrors you have witnessed and without a bed to sleep on, you are forced to adapt. This harsh reality is faced by thousands of refugee families who arrive in Ottawa every year. Founder of Helping with Furniture, Natalie Maione, has made it her mission to help these families settle into new homes. For more than 15 years, Helping With Furniture (HWF) has furnished the homes of newcomers: storing, sorting, and delivering everything from mattresses to bikes, to homes across the city.
In the community of Beacon-Hill/Cyrville in Ottawa, Maione is a legend. You will find her helping her neighbours or driving around in a yellow box truck (known as the Yellow Canary) filled with furniture. Mention her name and you will be met with rave reviews and stories of her kindness. Yet Natalie is humble, uplifting those in need without pity, treating them with respect and decency. Maoine, a full-time Kindergarten teacher, founded HWF in 2005 after volunteering with her church, shocked by the conditions of refugees in Canada. Her organization supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, reducing inequalities in communities and reducing environmental impact by keeping furniture out of landfills.
Through meeting thousands of families, Maoine has encountered individuals with heart-wrenching stories.
“The hardest was helping a single lady who left Rwanda after the genocide. I found out she had been raped, witnessed the execution of her husband, the rape of her young daughter, and her 9-year-old son was buried alive in front of her. I could not fathom how she had the courage to put one foot in front of another. I could not even look her in the eye, but her courage is what drives me to do my best for those in need,” she says.
Despite stories of trauma, there are moments of joy. “We were furnishing the home of a young single mom,” recounts Maoine. “It was a dark and cold winter night. We brought awesome items and we could imagine the decor. The kids were sleeping and we were bringing toys, books, and bikes, knowing they would wake up to such excitement. The mom had lined the hallway with bubble wrap so we didn’t dirty the floors and this caused lots of fun. The mom wrote to me in the morning to tell me about the kids’ happiness and excitement, but to also thank us for making that night a fun and happy moment.”
Since 2005, Helping With Furniture has adapted to the needs of its community, growing to help a wide variety of people, including those fleeing domestic violence, struggling with mental illness, or those who lost their homes to fire. Maoine has made it her mission to ensure no family has to sleep on the floor, turning cold houses into warm homes.