Pay It Forward Outreach helps families find hope one piece of furniture at a time

Families who finally find permanent housing turn to non-profit for furnishings

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OCALA, Fla. – Bonnie Vitale,  the founder of Pay It Forward Outreach in Ocala, is the winner of this week's Getting Results Award. 

Vitale has been helping families facing economic hardships find hope through furniture.

Pay If Forward Outreach works with 17 other nonprofits in the Marion County area to provide housewares, free of charge, to people moving into permanent housing.  

"They come with absolutely nothing because when you're coming out of a shelter, chances are you don't have much," Vitale said.

Vitale's 3,000 square-foot warehouse is packed with everything from dish towels to bed frames. She said all the items are donated by the public. 

"Sometimes, I can't get a cotton ball in here and sometimes I'm on my knees and asking the Lord for more because it feels like it's empty," she said.

Vitale started the nonprofit in her garage in 2005. The name came from the title of her favorite movie, but she hopes it foreshadows success for those she helps.

"We give them a hand up, not a hand out. We want to make sure they find this to be the last time that they need help and that, their next resource, they can give to someone else," she said.

None of the items are for sale. Everything is free. Families are able to pick what they like.

"It's kind of like Christmas, especially when they get to choose. That gives them hope and that gives them encouragement to continue," she said.

Vitale said Pay It Forward Outreach is able to help about six families a week based on the amount of donations she gets. But she said the need is much greater. 

Vitale was nominated for the Getting Results Award by donor Paula Inglee. Inglee first learned of Pay It Forward Outreach when she was trying to help a friend find someone to take her used furniture and household items.

"I thought it was pretty amazing that somebody had started it from her garage by herself all those years ago and had stuck with it," Inglee said. 

Orville Skeene arrived in a rental van ready to fill his new apartment with a couch, bed and just about everything else.

"Nothing but some clothes," was his answer when asked what was in his home now.

Skeene said his problems started when he fell ill, wasn't able to work and eventually found himself homeless.

"You gotta be grateful," he said. "You never know when it's going to be your turn."

While we were there, Skeene picked out a sleeper sofa, living room set and some bright-towels. He was visibly relieved to finally have some furnishings.

"Yeah, I'm going to be alright," he said, standing under a huge banner with the Pay It Forward Outreach logo on it. "And if they ever need help, they can call on me. I'll be there."   

If you live in Marion County and would like to donate new or gently used items, you can contact Pay It Forward Outreach here. 

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.