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Turning trash into treasure for those in need

Brunswick East organisation can supply unwanted furniture to a good home

RIMERN chair Susie Cole and volunteer Jo Connellan, a former Moreland City Councillor, at the Brunswick East warehouse. 

Mark Phillips

EVERY year tens of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good furniture and appliances end up in landfill, but a Brunswick East organisation is giving household items a second life in the home of someone who really needs them.

Since mid-2021, the Rotary Inner Melbourne Emergency Relief Network (RIMERN) has supplied hundreds of clients of welfare agencies with recycled furniture, appliances, white goods, cooking utensils and crockery, and sheets and blankets to fill their homes.

The volunteer-run network has saved 18,000 items from landfill and distributed an estimated $500,000 worth of furnishings and homewares with an average value of more than $700 for each client.

RIMERN is a joint initiative of 18 Rotary clubs in Melbourne’s innermost suburbs stretching from Camberwell and East Malvern in the east to Albert Park in the south and Preston in the north.

It is modelled on a similar emergency relief network which was started by Rotary clubs in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs a quarter of a century ago.

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RIMERN chair Susie Cole said the organisation works with 35 welfare agencies and programs such as Launch Housing, Jesuit Social Services, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, and Melbourne City Mission who pay a small fee to use RIMERN to connect their clients with everything they need to set up in a new home.

They include people fleeing domestic violence, refugees, recently released jail inmates, and families who have their home through fire, flood and other crises.

The organisation operates out of a 770 square metre, double-storey warehouse near Moreland Road in Brunswick East with room after room crammed full of every imaginable item needed to establish a new home, from beds and sofas to pots and pans, microwave ovens and televisions, to sheets and towels.

Most of the items are recycled from households who no longer want them, despite them being in good condition.

The welfare agencies book a time for the clients to personally visit the warehouse and choose what items they want for their home. These are then tagged and a couple of days later they are delivered to the client’s new home.

Cole said the “customers” literally walk into the warehouse with nothing and leave with everything they need to fully fit out their home.

An important part of the way RIMERN operates is that the clients have agency by selecting the items they want, rather than have the choice being taken out of their hands.

Just a fraction of the furniture stored in RIMERN’s warehouse in Brunswick East.

“While we don’t know the client’s story, for privacy reasons, we can pretty much guess based on which agency is referring what the story is,” Cole said.

“For example, Jesuit Social Services – we’ll know that’s a man coming out of jail, and they have got zero, and they’re thrilled to bits to come in here and be treated like a customer.

“We have a good selection host team and they will take them around and say, ‘Okay, I’ve got your order here, let’s start going shopping for no money. Let’s find you a sofa. These are the sofas, which one do you like? Bounce around and try them out’.”

RIMERN is always looking for new donations of furniture and other items, but Cole stresses it is not a dumping ground for unwanted furniture, which is a main reason why it doesn’t accept unsolicited drop offs and is reluctant for its address to be shared publicly.

The organisation won’t accept damaged goods, and it has a preference for contemporary furnishings.

“The reality is we probably say ‘No, thank you’ to more than 50% of what we’re offered because we know it’s not going to be suitable. And it just takes up space and it also takes labour to go and pick it up.

“We are incredibly proud of our reputation amongst the welfare agencies and programs and the clients and the only reason we can maintain a high standard is that we don’t take stuff that we wouldn’t put in our own holiday home or our own investment property or whatever.

“It’s about treating these people with dignity who have had such hard times.

“We want them to feel that we value them and we’re giving them really good stuff that’s clean, it’s fit for purpose, it’s stylish.”

Often unsuitable furniture is then recycled further by RIMERN by being donated to op shops run by charities. Unwanted doonas and sheets are donated to the RSPCA. Very little goes into landfill.

The organisation is always in search of working white goods (fridges, washing machines, dryers), microwaves, vacuum cleaners, lamps (all sizes), heaters in winter and fans in summer, flat screen TVs (not plasma), low line TV units and coffee tables.

RIMERN has about 70 volunteers but could do with more. A small team work moving goods in and out of the warehouse, but others are “spotters” and some assess the offers of furniture for whether they will be suitable.

More information about RIMERN, including how to donate goods, is available on its website. RIMERN will close from December 15 to January 16 and resume taking collections after then.

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