05/15/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
When Phil and Deborah Van Poetsch tried to donate their old bedroom set to charity in 1995, they couldn't find an organization to take it. "Most charities," Phil says, "can't even afford the warehouse space in Silicon Valley to store it." Undeterred, Van Poetsch piled the pieces into his pickup truck and delivered them to a needy family himself. "It really struck him how thankful that family was for what we thought was just our old junky stuff," says Deborah, 38, who, like her husband, is an estate manager for a wealthy family. "He was touched."
And inspired. With $100,000 from anonymous donors, Van Poetsch, 49, created the New Start Furniture Fund, a nonprofit program that picks up unwanted furniture and distributes it to low-income families. "We are living in perhaps the most affluent area in the United States," says Van Poetsch, who resides in Cupertino, Calif., with Deborah, their daughter Emily, 9, and twin sons Luke and Giles, 7. "A lot of furniture is being thrown out."
Employing two trucks and four full-time workers, the fund gave more than 9,000 pieces of furniture to 579 families last year, averaging 15 pieces per family. "Some people have 10 or 11 children," says Van Poetsch. "I could never say, 'Sorry, only five beds per family.' " At New Start's warehouse in Menlo Park, clients select the items they need—all cleaned and disinfected—for a flat $25 administrative fee. "If it wasn't for them, I would be sleeping on a wet floor," says Jeannette Stewart, 53, who was referred to New Start by the American Red Cross in January after she lost all her furniture in a flood. "It's like Christmas, but better."