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A Seed Grows in Seminole

Featured Photo from A Seed Grows in Seminole

The Mustard Seed of Central Florida has a strong and growing presence in Seminole County, providing help to families in distress and opportunities to serve for those with love to give

The Mustard Seed of Central Florida was established in 1988. It grew out of the strong faith and compassion of Carol Kane, who saw the rising epidemic of homelessness and knew she had to do something about it. Just like a well-planted and cared-for seed, the organization grew, building upon its founder’s mission to help rebuild the lives of families and individuals who have suffered a disaster or personal tragedy by providing household furnishings and clothing, all while being environmentally responsible to the community. 

Now in its 32nd year of service, The Mustard Seed serves the needs of nearly 3,000 people annually as the only nonprofit furniture and clothing bank in Central Florida. 

Whether it’s a veteran, individual, or family who has fallen on hard times from abuse, drug recovery, natural disasters, or medical or financial hardships, The Mustard Seed works with local partners to identify needs in the community to help people regain their lives with a sense of dignity.

“I don’t think people realize the importance of furniture or basic household furnishings,” says Alexi Altizer, The Mustard Seed’s marketing manager. “People can more easily get the concept of hunger, but they don’t always understand the impact of not having a table for a family meal or a bed for a child.” 

“Under the Florida Department of Children and Family regulations, a child must have a bed and a table, or they can be taken from their parents,” explains Kathy Baldwin, the agency’s executive director. “Not having those basics often devastates a family.” 

Both women are quick to point out that many people who come to The Mustard Seed for help are often working families who may have found themselves homeless or at the brink of homelessness due to circumstances beyond their control. 

“We get people coming here from all walks of life,” says Alexi. “When you don’t have a home and all you own is gone, and perhaps you’re awaiting FEMA assistance or an insurance claim, you need to find a temporary home and establish some kind of normalcy. None of us is immune from finding ourselves in that place.”

Whatever the cause of clients’ hardships, The Mustard Seed helps provide some of the necessities of life that can offer stability and a chance to rebuild their lives. Its 20,000-square-foot warehouse and office building in Orlando houses donated furniture and home furnishings as well as the Seed Boutique & Community Shop, which is also open to the public. Proceeds earned go back to funding programs. 

Beds are among the most sought-after items. Unfortunately, only about 30 percent of donated beds meet acceptable standards. Rather than discard unsuitable mattresses to the landfill, The Mustard Seed began a recycling program in 2011. Recognized for outstanding achievements and excellence in creating a sustainable economic, environmental, and social future for Florida, the organization received the Governor’s Sustainable Florida 2014 Nonprofit Best Practice award.  
As one of the few nonprofit groups in the nation to recycle mattresses, The Mustard Seed, to date, has recycled more than 170,000 mattresses, diverting more than 3.6 million cubic feet of waste from landfills. 

“Earned income from deconstructed mattress materials that are bought by recyclers goes back into programs,” explains Kathy. 

The mattress recycling program also provides employment opportunities for people with limited job skills and training, as well as suitable beds for clients. 

Dressers are also a high priority for many clients of The Mustard Seed. So much so, the organization often has to set a limit of one dresser per family, but the team has found creative ways to meet the growing demand.

“We started to do dresser drives with companies,” says Alexi. “They agree to purchase flat-pack dressers from stores like Ikea, Target, or Walmart and build them for us. It’s a great team-building opportunity for their employees, too.”  

“Nothing requires team cooperation like building a piece of furniture,” smiles Kathy.

With only 19 staff members to run The Mustard Seed, community engagement manager Mehek Mirchandani is always looking for volunteers who can help in the warehouse or shops or participate in drives.

“It’s not just local volunteers, either,” says Mehek. “Conventions and colleges are often looking for service projects.”
Last fiscal year, nearly 4,000 volunteers donated 12,760 hours, and not a single minute goes to waste.

“There’s hardly a day that the phone isn’t ringing off the hook with someone seeking help,” says Alexi. 

What keeps staff and volunteers going at The Mustard Seed can be summed up in one word...

“It’s passion, first and foremost,” says Kathy. “Everyone who works here, whether staff or volunteer, understands our greatest reward comes from the gratefulness of those we serve.” 

To learn more about The Mustard Seed of Central Florida, visit MustardSeedFla.org.

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