Quaylon Crawford enlisted in the Army right out of high school and deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an Infantry scout sniper.
While deployed, Crawford got used to sleeping inside metal cargo containers and Bradley Fighting Vehicles or even on the ground. He lived with such a high amount of adrenaline that being amped up became second nature.
But when he came home in 2007, Crawford, like many veterans, discovered that reintegration was just as challenging as war.
When he came home in 2007, Crawford, like many veterans, discovered that reintegration was just as challenging as war.
served per year
Unable to find a job, Crawford became homeless and took to living in his car and sleeping at rest stops and in grocery store parking lots.
Eventually, he found a job and an apartment. But then his daughter died in 2010, sending him into a spiral of mental health issues; he didn’t work for a year. It wasn’t until 2015 – with scant money or personal possessions, and still dealing with mental health issues – that he finally sought help.
Through the VA, Crawford was referred to Bridging, a Twin Cities nonprofit that operates the country’s largest furniture bank.
The experience ultimately helped him get his life back on track.
served by Bridging
Ninety-one year-old Fran Heitzman, the founder of Bridging, grew up during the Great Depression. The experience profoundly shaped his philanthropic philosophy.
“My god, you talk about dirt poor – we were dirt poor!” Heitzman says, recounting the one-bedroom house he shared with nine family members.
There was no indoor plumbing, Heitzman’s mother cooked on a pot-belly stove, and a staple of the family’s diet were potatoes too small for market that they scavenged from a farmer’s field.
Nonetheless, the family routinely tried to help others.
“Many, many times I watched people come [to our house] with sacks and boxes, and my mother would go down into the basement and give them potatoes,” Heitzman says, by way of example. “I never forgot that. People in those days shared.”
Those lessons were ingrained in Heitzman’s mind a few decades later, when a parishioner at his church asked him if he could find a home for her child’s crib.
Heitzman made a few phone calls and found a social service agency that was thrilled to accept the furniture. In that moment, he recognized the need for a place where people could drop off (and select) household items.
Heitzman launched his furniture bank in 1987 and named it Bridging – because of its potential to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots.
Since then, Bridging has furnished more than 80,000 homes through its network of 150+ referring agencies. It’s also inspired the launch of other furniture banks across the country.
Despite a VA referral, Quaylon Crawford initially resisted going to Bridging.
“I’m very prideful,” he explains. “It takes me a lot to ask for help … I feel, as a man, I should always be able to find a way to make things happen.”
However at the prodding of his caseworker, he finally agreed to an intake, and two weeks later, in the summer of 2015, he had an appointment to select home furnishings.
On the day of his appointment, Crawford sat inside the Bridging office and felt nervous. “I was like ‘Oh man, I hope no one sees me … I hope the people are nice,’” he says. “And then I went back to, ‘How did I get to this place to begin with?!’”
But then a volunteer came into the office and put him at ease.
“We started having a conversation, and we started laughing and joking and it just became a very fun experience,” Crawford says. “I felt like everyone there genuinely cared about me. And even though [I] might have just been a number, they made me feel like it was a personal experience.”
Quaylon CrawfordI felt like everyone [at Bridging] genuinely cared about me. And even though [I] might have just been a number, they made me feel like it was a personal experience.
pounds of thrift
from going into
landfills each year
The volunteer walked Crawford through the furniture warehouse, and he selected cookware, a couch, a dining room table, and a queen-sized bed. The bed, in particular, has been a blessing:
“Spending eight years in the Army … I can sleep anywhere, on anything, at any time, with anything going on … [But] I’m getting a little older,” Crawford explains. “My body doesn’t keep up like it used to.”
The day of his Bridging appointment, Crawford also met Fran Heitzman. (Heitzman is a military veteran, too, as was his older brother who died in combat during WWII.)
“First thing he did was [say], ‘Give me a hug!’” Crawford says. “Fran’s an amazing person. You know, you run into those rare people where you meet them and you just feel an overabundance of warmth … It’s a good feeling when he’s around, you know? He genuinely cares for people.”
A year after he was introduced to Heitzman and Bridging, Crawford’s life is increasingly stable.
He works in the safety and security department of a local hospital, has decreased his financial debt and accrued some savings, and prepares home-cooked meals with his Bridging cookware. Just as important, Crawford, a single father to two sons – ages 6 and 8 – says he’s setting a positive example for his kids and building a foundation for their future.
“I’m trying to raise [my sons] to be the best they can be and not suffer the same downfalls I’ve experienced,” he says.
When asked what he would tell the public, Crawford says, “We live in such a society of opulence. If you have more than you need, or things you don’t need or want, give it away. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Written by: Lori Imsdahl