Helping newcomers at the Furniture Bank
Meet Iranian-born Haydeh Mohebbi, who helps newcomers fill their homes from Toronto’s Furniture Bank
When she came to Canada from Iran in 2003, Haydeh Mohebbi found herself in the situation many newcomers face. She was confronted with a monumental task: rebuilding her life from scratch.
Arriving with her two daughters, and followed five months later by her husband, Mohebbi lived with relatives for the first few months while she began setting up her new world in Canada.
Fast forward 15 years and Mohebbi is a volunteer with Toronto’s Furniture Bank, a charity that collects gently used furniture and transfers them to families transitioning out of homelessness or displacement. She’s there every Wednesday, helping newcomers to the country, people transitioning out of homelessness and refugees to select furniture to make their new houses feel like homes.
Speaking to Canadian Immigrant, Mohebbi describes her own early settlement. “I came with my two daughters, then my husband joined us later. We stayed at my brother-in-law’s house first, helping out with his kid and cooking so that they could work overtime to pay for the apartment. It meant I didn’t have time to go out and find a job,” she says.
Starting over in Canada
Back in Iran, Mohebbi was a fashion designer and her husband was an engineer. Starting again in Canada meant both had to switch careers and tighten the purse strings early on.
“After a few months, my daughter and I found jobs working in a coffee shop. A month later we found a place to rent, an apartment. Because our salary was too low, we had to ask a relative to co-sign the lease for us.”
Mohebbi found herself forced to borrow furnishings after she arrived in the country. “When we arrived, we borrowed some furniture from a relative. We were lent a folding sofa with a huge metal bar in the middle. The whole thing was quite funny. The bar meant that if you weren’t careful when you sat down, you would fall in,” she says with a laugh.
“I remember one night when we came back from work to the house, which was a rental building, I saw some furniture left outside. We were so excited. I went straight upstairs to tell my daughters. “There was a dresser with one drawer missing, but we were honestly so happy. We carried it inside and, even though it was in awful condition, we were so excited.”
Volunteering at Furniture Bank
Able to sympathize closely with the excitement the clients of Furniture Bank experience when entering the charity’s Etobicoke, Ontario, showroom, Mohebbi is the perfect volunteer.
“With some of the clients, I think they have come from similar backgrounds [to myself],” she says. “Of course, you don’t ask clients those sorts of questions, but with some people you can tell from the way they talk or they walk that they may have had a really positive set up back home. I know it’s hard when you come to a new country. There’s the language barrier, the culture shock and the set up. It’s really fun for me to go volunteer and interact with people and I really like my colleagues.”
“We talk, we have fun and you also have the amazing feeling of helping people. There are all kinds of clients — some are humble, some are demanding, but it’s always an interesting day.”