Making a house a home

Since 1992, Homestart, an all-volunteer service of First Lutheran Church of Tacoma, has been helping people in the community by supplying them with household goods, including furniture, pots and pans, sheets, blankets and other items that make a house a home.

The service is free and available every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12 at 1020 South I St. in Tacoma, the fourth location since Homestart began its mission of giving back to the community.

Jan Peterson and Jim Ofelt have run the show from the beginning.

“Jim and I were involved with the Exchange Club of Tacoma, a service organization, and they were supportive of our efforts,” said Jan.

At that time, the Exchange Club was running strong with 65 members. Three years ago, that membership had dwindled to eight, and Ofelt and Peterson decided it was time to throw in the towel. Striking out on their own with the help of First Lutheran Church, they have been picking up furniture and an abundance of household items ever since.

Homestart relies heavily on loyal and dedicated volunteers who show up each week, making sure every blanket is folded, every glass is displayed, and furniture is set up for inspection by clients.

William Tell Williams (Willie) volunteers on a regular basis and wouldn’t miss the experience.

“I love doing things for people and love being a volunteer. I’ve been here for a long time,” he said.

Williams is the muscle of the group, loading furniture into trucks for delivery or driving to homes to pick up donations.

Volunteer Debbie Frisina tries to help Homestart every week. “If my body and mind are ok, I’ll volunteer anywhere,” she said.

“We are blessed with our volunteers,” said Peterson.

Ofelt added that many of the volunteers are people who have been helped by Homestart in the past.

The entire inventory at Homestart is donated, and those donations are what keep Homestart up and running. Peterson said many of the retirement communities keep them on speed-dial, and when they call, Williams and Ofelt hop in a truck and head out to do the pickup.

A walk through the warehouse reveals organization that is key to Homestart, since the space is limited. Everything from Tupperware to vacuum cleaners, lamps, household items and furniture are available for clients.

If clothes are donated, Homestart passes them on to a clothing bank. Homestart doesn’t take big appliances such as stoves or refrigerators, but does welcome toasters, coffeemakers and other items that make a kitchen hum.

“We have families coming in that are at-risk people, divorced people, and some who are just out of jail or prison,” said Peterson.

“We take everything except wine glasses or ashtrays” in donations, she said, adding, “We ask folks, ‘Are you in need or are you in want?’ If they say they are in want, we say goodbye.”

Homestart keeps up with the current seasons.

Winter is approaching, and Peterson noted, “By October, all the blankets will be gone.”

Ofelt said they get donations of medical supplies, wheelchairs, walkers, diapers, and shower chairs, and pass those off to charities.

The clients who visit Homestart have slowed down to a crawl. “We used to have 25 people waiting in line when we opened the door,” said Ofelt, who would like to see more folks coming in for the free items.

He said he and Peterson makes clients’ visits easy as can be.

“We just take people’s word. We ask for identification and we enter their name, address and phone number and the number of people in their family,” said Ofelt.

Peterson agrees that a long line at the door on Tuesday mornings would be a welcome sight.

“We want to make the community aware that this service is available to those in need. Clients can have as many items as necessary to make their home livable,” she said.

Peterson and Ofelt clearly enjoy their involvement with Homestart and the clients they serve.  They would just like to see more folks show up and make use of the

household items they have stacked floor to ceiling in their warehouse. However, both enjoy the interaction with their clients and remain upbeat and hopeful.

“I love the people and I love the stories,” said Peterson.


Contact Homestart at 253-564-6090.

Jim Ofelt and Jan Peterson, founders of Homestart, and volunteer Willie Williams stand in front of Homestart’s location at 1020 South I Street in Tacoma. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)


Joan Cronk, who wrote this article, is a freelance writer. She lives in Puyallup.