The former Contempo Concepts furniture showroom is still just that. Clients come in and select furnishings for a new home, and whether they fancy blue florals or red gingham, clients get to choose the colors and patterns that appeal to their sense of style.

But today, that showroom is greeNest, a nonprofit that provides home furnishings for transitioning homeless clients for under $150.

“Our core values are dignity and choice. We want people to come in and choose the items they love that work for them,” says Jan Barbee, one of the nonprofit’s founders, along with sister Joanna Britt.

GreeNest partners with more than 50 faith-based, educational, and nonprofit organizations to secure referrals for clients who are transitioning to sustainable housing. Clients are responsible for raising $125–$150 for their day of shopping, and greeNest schedules one family at a time to shop with their case manager.

A giving community

As always, Winston-Salem answers the call for people in need.

“You can see how generous people are,” says Julia Toone, the nonprofit’s new executive director. “The linens, cookware, dishes, and furniture are all very nice quality. Our clients’ eyes just light up when they come to shop. That’s the key to success … having the items that people need for a nominal fee. When they select for themselves, it’s so much more respectful and dignified, and it supports them on their journey to self-sufficiency.”

Volunteers in green aprons, ranging from teenagers to older adults, are busy in the storage area. Some move furniture, do repair work, and test electronics, while others design beautifully coordinated cookware, linen, or towel sets for the showroom. Toone estimates that during the nonprofit’s four years of operation, tens of thousands of items have been donated, and there is very little waste, thanks to partnerships with Goodwill Industries, Forsyth Humane Society, and The Olio.

“Our volunteers have a sense of ownership. They want everything to look nice for our clients, and they pay close attention to the details,” Toone says. “This is a fun and welcoming environment because of them.”

Feathering the nest

Barbee first began working with the homeless through her church, Augsburg Lutheran, in its overflow shelter. She noticed that even after the shelter guests found a home, they would continue to return to the church for dinner because they couldn’t afford furnishings.

“So many of us have things that we don’t know what to do with, or we want to donate them to fill a true need. We saw a true need to help our shelter guests,” she says.

Working with Beth Smoot, who helped found The Green Chair Project in Raleigh, Barbee and Britt adapted its model for Winston-Salem.

Although the causes of homelessness vary, greeNest recognizes that most people just need a little help to get back on the path of self-sufficiency.

“Many things cause homelessness; incarceration, job loss, domestic violence, medical bills. Many of us have support systems locally who can help, but not everyone does,” Toone says.

But as Winston-Salem continues to grow, Toone is also concerned about the availability of affordable housing.

“We’ve seen areas of affordable housing pushed further out of the city or even become non-existent,” she says. “I love Winston-Salem, and I want everyone to love it and feel welcome here, especially those who are struggling. It’s important that they feel they can thrive and succeed here.”

GreeNest accepts household donations Tuesdays from 10 a.m.–2 p.m., Thursdays from 1–5 p.m., and the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at 930 Brookstown Avenue. To learn more about what items are accepted, go to greenestws.org.

Give it to greeNest

Here is a list of the gently used items always in high demand at greeNest:

  • Sofas and loveseats
  • Microwave ovens
  • Bed frames
  • Small dressers
  • Small trash cans
  • Shower curtains
  • Skillets, all sizes
  • Can openers
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