Happy December! We just wrapped up another successful Fall Auction, raising nearly $130,000 in funds that will make an immediate and profound impact for individuals and families who are breaking the cycle of furniture poverty here in our community. Every year, Barnabas collects more than 10,000 pieces of furniture from donors in the community to furnish the homes of 3,700 neighbors in need.
We’re now in our 18th year of furnishing the change for people on the path to self-sufficiency. It seems like the perfect time to share the story of how it all began. Here’s your chance to get to know Barnabas co-founder Darnell Brame.
TBN: Plain and simple: without you, there wouldn’t be a Barnabas. All those years ago, what made you think, “furniture”?
DB: I had a pickup truck. When you own a pickup truck, everybody wants you to help them move something or pick up something. I was working several jobs, and from time to time someone would end up with something they did not want or need anymore and would ask me to get rid of it for them. I could not throw furniture or appliances away if they were good and reusable.
I don’t like wasting anything. So, I would bring the furniture home and put it into my garage. I spent a couple of years just giving away one piece here and one piece there. Then, one day I had an opportunity to furnish an entire house of a lady that my wife worked with. That’s when the furniture light bulb came on. I’d seen food banks and clothing banks before — and I had a vision: a furniture bank.
TBN: Let’s go back to the early days. How did it all begin?
DB: Well, to tell the story right I must go all the way back to 1998. From 1998-2006. I ran my own furniture bank. Lord/Brame furniture ministry. I ran it out of my garage with my wife and children assisting. I did this in my free time. I still had a full-time and a part-time job. In 2004, we were contemplating moving this furniture out of the garage and into a warehouse. That same year I met with a friend of mine, by the name of Odell Cleveland, who was the Executive Director of Welfare Reform Liaison Project (WRLP) He had some warehouse space in the building that he was using (Revolution Mills) That’s where I met Tim Patterson, the rector at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, and he was meeting with Odell the same day for the same reason.
The meeting was a fateful one. It led to an effort that established furniture assistance for recently-arrived Montagnard families, and, a few years later in 2005, the idea for a furniture bank was solidified by the impact of families resettling in Greensboro due to Hurricane Katrina. The community outreach furniture ministry became officially known as The Barnabas Network, and the 501c3 nonprofit organization was formed a year later.
TBN: Are there any standout moments of the early days of Barnabas?
DB: I remember our very first client. A social services agent was helping her client with financial struggles and noticed the young lady had a $380 monthly Rent to Own furniture bill. The Social Service agent told the lady to turn in all that furniture back to the “Rent to Own” furniture store and they would think of something else. The following week the Social Services agent heard about The Barnabas Network and asked if we could help. We were able to assist with a sectional sofa set, dining table with four chairs, a dresser, queen size mattress set with the frame. I realized then that furniture could make an impact on people’s lives. More than just receiving some free furniture, we were bringing financial stability to families as well.
TBN: What kind of impact has Barnabas made in Guilford County since you co-founded it all those years ago?
DB: Barnabas has made a tremendous impact in Greensboro and all of Guilford County since we started. Prior to me working on my own furniture ministry and the launching of Barnabas, there was no place for someone with furniture needs to get assistance. It was not even a thing back then. Now, people have a bed to sleep on instead of sleeping on the floor. They have a sofa to sit on instead of milk crates, and they have a dining table to eat on instead of their laps.
Furniture makes you feel whole. Furniture turns your house or apartment into a home. That’s the kind of impact that furniture has and that’s the kind of impact that Barnabas has in this community.
TBN: You’re notoriously modest. People want to know about Darnell Brame, the man, the legend, and the nonprofit founder.
DB: I was born in Henderson, NC, a little city about 100 miles north of Greensboro. But I was raised here in Greensboro. I've been married for 36 years and I was educated in the Guilford County School System, graduating from Walter Hines Page Senior High School. I am the oldest of three brothers. Oh yeah, by the way, I am an identical twin. I got my first tax paying job at age 16. My second job at 17 and a third job at 19 — and I worked all three of those jobs for 18 years. I worked at Cone Mill White Oak Denim Plant for 37 years until they closed down. I am now employed at Atlantic Packaging Corporation.
TBN: You’re always busy. When you have free time, what brings you joy?
DB: I like to play golf and tinker with my hands. Building or repairing things, giving something old new life.
TBN: You’re still very involved with Barnabas, as both a volunteer and board member. What keeps you here?
DB: There are two main reasons I stay involved with Barnabas besides the fact that I love it. The first reason is to see the completion of the vision I had for Barnabas all of those years ago. The first part of that vision was a furniture nonprofit organization with 10+ employees and two trucks. I saw the completion of that part of the vision several years ago. The second part of that vision was that we would have a second Barnabas location. I would love to be a part of that vision coming to pass. (Barnabas-High Point coming soon!)
The other reason I stay involved with Barnabas is so I can pray for its success, and I can pray for its needs. Being involved, I can see first-hand what the needs are and the success of how the prayers have been answered.
Darnell and his wife Danielle have two adult children and two super cute grandsons. They attend Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he serves as a deacon and an attendant with the church parking lot ministry. While he stays on the go with work, volunteering, family and church activities, if you’re lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of him over here at 838 Winston Street, where he’s a constant presence in our mission to recycle furniture and recycle lives.