By Kathleen Ganster
The outside of the building is unassuming and belies the good work going on inside.
It’s “Blessing Day,” a day when folks who need a little help can receive it through The Blessing Board, a non-profit organization in Plum that provides furniture and other supplies including linens and dishes.
“It’s not just about free furniture, it’s about providing blessings,” said founder, Tom Mitlo, who started the organization five years ago. They received 501 (c) (3) status last year.
Those who gather for the furniture include homeless families who recently found a place to live, single mothers moving from shelters, folks displaced by fires and other disasters and others just trying to get furniture to make a place home, said Mitlo.
The process is simple – people donate used furniture they no longer need to The Blessing Board, often with Mitlo and his volunteers picking it up. The furniture is stored in one of two warehouses (including his office in Plum) or one of three storage units, until the once-a-month “Blessing Day.”
Folks in need have already been vetted by Mitlo who fields hundreds of calls a month and assigns folks to a pick-up day. On that day, everyone must be ready for a 10 a.m. meeting. And when Mitlo says 10 a.m., that is exactly what he means.
“If you aren’t here at 10 a.m., you lose your place in line. If you come in late, you are the end of the line,” he said.
Before they start giving out the furniture, Mitlo meets with the volunteers who have come to help him. According to Mitlo, volunteers include church groups, friends and folks who just want to help.
“We may be the only time that they see Jesus in 3-D,” he said, “So while we are helping them, we pray for them.”
By 10 a.m. on this particular Saturday morning, several families were in chairs set-up at the back of the warehouse, waiting for Mitlo to lead a short meeting.
Mitlo then talks to this group and tells then how he started the organziaton out of his garage when he realized people he knew were getting rid of furniture, while others needed it.
“I’m standing in the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” he explained, “And that is what God called me to do – stand in this gap and help you become not a have-not.”
Mitlo and his “ambassadors and movers” work with the families to provide all sorts of furniture and supplies, including moving through the warehouse to find a particular bed or couch. The movers then load trucks, vans and cars with the goods.
“They have to come with a truck or a vehicle to haul it away. That is one of the requirments. The other is that it is by appointment only. You can’t just stop in,” he said.
Among the helpers are Mitlo’s wife, Pat, and their 12-year-old son, Hunter. When asked if he minded getting up early on a Saturday morning to help his dad, Hunter joked, “He lets me come in.”
Both son and dad laughed. “He’s great,” said Mitlo.
One of those receiving furniture was a single dad, hoping to find some furniture to his teen daughters.
“He wants to make them feel at home. This is really important for him,” said his girlfriend.
Megan Rancatore is a caseworker for UPMC who often brings her clients to The Blessing Board.
“Tom is great. This helps these people tremendously. They don’t have to have vouchers, they don’t have to fill out lots of forms,” she said, “He makes it really simple for them.”
Like the others who help, Mitlo is completely a volunteer with the project. Although he dedicates about 30 hours a week to The Blessing Board, he also owns and operates the Orion Delta Group, a headhunter business for the medical field. He runs both his business and The Blessing Board from the same location.
“I’m not in the furniture business. I’m here to serve the Lord,” Mitlo said to the group, “If you are here today, you are already a have not. You are already blessed to be here to receive.”
For more information about The Blessing Board, visit www.blessingboard.org.