March 30, 2011; Source: Orlando Sentinel | A nonprofit furniture bank in Florida, nearly flat on its back a year ago from a drop in charitable donations, has sprung back to life by branching out into the mattress recycling business. Proceeds from the sale of mattress components now provide The Mustard Seed of Orlando enough money to support its mission of providing replacements to people who've lost furniture, clothing and other household possessions due to natural disasters, fires, bankruptcy or other personal tragedies like domestic violence.

The group, which started in 1984, found that the costs of hauling items to the landfill that it couldn't give away were increasing while at the same time its operating funds were drying up due to do a drop in donations. To help prevent Mustard Seed from going under, the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation gave it a grant to study the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Euguene, Ore., which the Orlando Sentinel describes as a "a pioneer in the mattress-recycling business."

With assistance from St. Vincent, Mustard Seed began its own recycling operation that now keeps four full-time employees salvaging resalable elements from the steady supply of discarded mattresses from hotels in the Orlando area. In addition, just this week, Mustard Seed signed a deal to dispose of mattresses IKEA customers return to the retailer.

According to the Sentinel, Mustard Seed employees remove and separate "the quilted topper, the polyurethane foam, the steel springs, the wooden frame and a rough-hewn interior pad," which are then sold for use "in everything from carpet pads to garden mulch to car engines." The nonprofit also takes in appliances, cardboard and polystyrene for resale.

Before it reinvented itself as both an environmentally sound and sustainable business, Mustard Seed had seen its donations drop from $2.5 million to $1.2 million. In just the last year, proceeds from recycling operations have allowed it to help some 4,000 people.—Bruce Trachtenberg