Housing and Sustainability: Bridging

Housing and Sustainability: Bridging

You could call Bloomington-based Bridging a bank—a furniture bank. For more than three decades the organization has been focused on a single mission: providing household essentials and furnishings to individuals and families settling into new homes.

Bridging was founded in 1987 by Fran Heitzman, a retired entrepreneur and business owner, who was serving as custodian of the then-new Pax Christi Church in Eden Prairie. A woman brought in a piece of furniture to donate. Heitzman said that the church didn’t need it, but that he could find a home for the item.

“Thirty years ago, I gave away one crib, and look what happened,” recalled Heitzman in a 2018 video.

His idea was to build a “bridge” connecting people who had furniture to give away with people who needed the goods. Heitzman died in January 2020 at 94.

Executive director Mark Wilkening says that the group’s annual budget today is about $3.5 million but is more like $10 million when in-kind contributions are counted. About 75 percent of the materials that Bridging gives away are donated by individuals; the rest comes from corporate or retail sources. In an average year they see about 80,000 hours of contributed time from volunteers. “Our operation is very volunteer dependent,” Wilkening says.

The nonprofit partners with nearly 200 social service agencies who refer clients to the group. Bridging owns two warehouses—one in Bloomington, one in Roseville—that hold available housewares and furniture. Bridging has always paired clients with personal shoppers to select goods at their warehouses, but in the age of Covid, personal shopping is now virtual.

“We had always intended to make that a tool in our toolbox, but Covid forced us to create that,” Wilkening says.

More than 60 percent of the families connected to Bridging are transitioning out of homelessness. Between 80 to 90 percent have an annual income of less than $20,000. About 80 percent are members of BIPOC communities.

“Our demand has remained steady and constant through this whole pandemic,” says Wilkening. He expects rising demand as people will start moving and relocating once bans on evictions are lifted. Bridging will be ready.

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