By Evan Wechman
When Mary Jo Welch moved to New Jersey 36 years ago from Nebraska, she did not know the impact she would have in so many people’s lives in the Morris County area. However, the Randolph resident and mother of three, is almost ready to give up her reign as President of Interfaith Furnishings. During this time, she has also worked professionally as a sales manager for various companies in the area.
However, this non-stop dynamo has been a huge asset in the county since her founding of Interfaith Furnishings, a non-profit company in 2004. She and her volunteers serve residents who need furniture such as tables, dressers, and chairs,
Many people might take these items for granted but Welch has found a niche for people who have excess furniture items and those who need them.
“It is the ultimate recycling project,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to give furniture to people who are going to sell it.”
This has enabled her group to help those in need acquire these items. Back in 2004, Welch sat at her kitchen table with a phone book and a rotary phone. One after the other, she called both social workers and faith-based communities to solicit their help. She was persistent and it became a success shortly after.
In a nutshell, the social workers Welch contacted determine which members of the community qualify for the furniture. Then the churches or temples lend 5-6 members the third weekend of every month to help transport the truck and deliver or pick up items. Presently, Interfaith Furnishings has helped over 1700 people in need acquire furnishings.
The volunteers come from different backgrounds. Through the years Welch has worked with different Christian denominational churches, various Jewish temples, and now also gets a tremendous amount of assistance from two Islamic temples in Morris County.
“It is good to meet people outside your normal circle,” she said. “We learn a lot about different faiths.”
This meeting and discussion of different ideas often occurs during lunch immediately after the pick-up and deliveries are finished. All the volunteers sit down, break bread, and talk about what is going on in their neck of the woods.
The team of volunteers usually makes about 14 stops on a weekend day, but their priority is always to deliver an essential item than pick up if time is limited.
Welch said she receives a lot of pleasure in knowing the good residents in the area are getting these essential items such as sofas and chairs. “They’re so grateful to have a place to sit,” she said.
Not only is it a great opportunity to solve a problem for those in need, but it is a worthwhile volunteer opportunity as well.
The finding and placement of volunteers to help the organization is one of Welch’s biggest goals as president and founder.
She said, “every month I make sure we have volunteers and it’s harder than you think.” This is true especially in her case because the lifting and carrying of furniture is certainly not for everybody.
She is currently looking for younger kids to help as well and acknowledged it is a wonderful opportunity for men to help the community by performing a much-needed service.
To make things a bit easier on the volunteers, since the pandemic broke out in March 2020, they deliver most of the items from their warehouse at Christ Church in Rockaway to the driveway of the recipients’ homes. They try not to go inside as a precaution.
Welch wants the community to know she is always looking for volunteers and has even used people with unique talents to help her mission. For example, if someone is handy, she can have them fix the leg of a chair.
After almost two decades of tirelessly serving her community, Welch is in the process of handing over the leadership to someone else.
Through the years she has had a handful of churches donate space as a warehouse, but her office started and remains in her home, dialing for people who need help. However, she is confident in her decision that it is “time to pass the baton to someone else.”
For more information, visit www.interfaithfurnishings.org.