The University of Iowa

UI international students receive free furniture

July 12th, 2011

By Brittany Trevick, The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa graduate student Hao Zhang came to Iowa from China with no furniture to stock his apartment. But after stopping at Faith Baptist Church, he wound up with a desk, a microwave, and much more to furnish his Iowa City apartment.

Through the church-sponsored International Giveaway program, international students who come to the United States with little to nothing to furnish their apartments can pick up furniture and other household items.

“International Giveaway gives us an opportunity to get things free in a very convenient way,” Zhang said. “It helped me a lot.”

The collection starts around the end of the school year, and students choose their new belongings Aug. 13. This is the program’s ninth year, said Jake Mangold, assistant to the pastor at Faith Baptist Church, 1251 Village Road. And students said they typically get many uses out of the items.

“It’s a big desk,” Zhang said. “Normally, [it is] for office use, but we use it to hold parties with friends.”

Scott King, an assistant dean of International Programs, said projects such as these help students obtain objects they might not be able to bring with them when leaving their home country.

“I think the best example of how successful it is, is students told by their friends to go back every year,” he said.

King said he expects around 850 new international students this year at the UI, which will bring the total enrollment close to 3,000.

Around 150 to 275 students usually participate in the program, with more than 50 volunteers helping out, Mangold said.

“[The students] are thrilled to have somebody help them,” he said.

“International Giveaway gives us an opportunity to get things free in a very convenient way. It helped me a lot.” – Hao Zhang

Zhang participated in the event last year but said he probably won’t participate in it this year because past students are discouraged from attending the event twice because they already have furniture and “know the ropes a lot better,” said Elva Craig, a campus missionary for Campus Bible Fellowship and the originator of the idea.

She started the program after hearing about a similar project a Campus Bible Fellowship coworker was a part of. It involved collecting furniture and having people pick it up as they needed it.

“I thought we could do something on a little bigger scale,” Craig said.

She has been working with international students since she started with the Campus Bible Fellowship, and she decided to help them because in her dealings with them, she found they usually seemed to need items to help fill their apartments.

“I saw this as a need that we might be able to help,” she said.

On the day of the pickup, students are bused to the church, given directions on how the process works, and given a short message from Pastor Tim Waldron.

They are limited to picking up one large item — such as a bed or a desk — but are allowed to pick up an unlimited amount of smaller items — such as microwaves and lamps.

The church officials receive donations, both in furniture and in money for auctions, from members of the church, members of the community, and garage sales.

Mangold said he plans to continue the program because he feels it fills a need that is sometimes forgotten.

“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “I would love to continue expanding.”