Humble Dwellings: helping people starting over

Anne Marie Amacher
Karen VanDeCasteele sorts through donations at one of Humble Dwellings storage units in Parkview, Iowa.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

PARKVIEW — What started out as a random act of kindness led to a calling to help people who are starting their lives over. Karen VanDeCasteele, founder of Humble Dwellings and a member of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, received a call 10 years ago about a father who had gained custody of his two daughters and needed furniture. VanDeCasteele, along with family and friends, scoured garage sales and received donations to furnish the home for the family in need.

Humble Dwellings evolved from that experience. “God is a big part of this,” she said. “I was searching for something more to do. God heard my prayer.” While trying to decide whether to return to work, school or do something else, “a page in a book hit me. It said, ‘why are we here on Earth?’ To help others.” She said God kept putting people in front of her, but she missed the hints at first. Then she realized that God wanted her to help others with this ministry.

“We started with one family and last year helped 200 people (85 families).” In the early days, she and her friends shopped at garage sales, accepted donations from her parish and the community and stored items in her garage. The volunteers rounded up a trailer and truck for deliveries. After four years of growth, she decided to form a nonprofit called Humble Dwellings. She wanted to be able to issue receipts for tax purposes and apply for grants.


After obtaining nonprofit status, she moved items to a storage unit, bought a truck and trailer and has continued to expand to multiple spots in the climate-controlled storage unit. Humble Dwellings serves the Quad-City area in Iowa and Illinois. About 20 referral agencies work with the nonprofit including Humility Homes and Services, Tapestry Farms, Women’s Choice Center and Iowa/Illinois Center for Independent Living.

Most referrals are for women fleeing from domestic abuse — some single, some with children. Humble Dwellings has helped refugees, veterans, people who are moving from homelessness to a home and other people fleeing the violence in larger cities. Humble Dwellings has helped five residents of the downtown Davenport apartment building that partially collapsed this spring.

A Humble Dwellings volunteer meets with a client at that person’s new home to evaluate furnishing needs. If there are children, the volunteer asks about favorite colors and the things they like. Volunteers try to make sure at least one favorite item is placed in the child or children’s bedroom, such as Star Wars artwork. Volunteers also review a checklist of needs for each room. “The majority (of clients) have nothing,” she said. Ensuring that clients have a bed in the residence is a priority. The needed furnishings are collected and placed on the loading dock for delivery, generally within a week. Volunteers load the items for delivery and unload them onsite. Still other volunteers decorate the new residence.

Donors of household items must call Humble Dwellings regarding donations they want to make. “We know what we have and we know what we need. We can’t take everything and we don’t have a lot of space.” A drop-off time is arranged for the donor to deliver the item or items to Humble Dwellings.

“We still go to garage sales, auctions, Habitat ReStore,” VanDeCasteele said. Monetary donations pay for rent, insurance, gas for the truck and items needed. Grants from Moline Foundation, Riverboat Development Authority and Scott County Regional Authority among others help Humble Dwellings meet its needs.

The nonprofit has about 50 volunteers, but “We’re always looking for more volunteers.” St. Ambrose University in Davenport has sent volunteers to assist and other volunteers come from home schools, high schools and confirmation classes, among others.

Humble Dwellings does not handle large furniture, holiday decorations or clothing, food or personal hygiene products. Its greatest needs are dressers and small kitchen tables. “We often have to buy them,” said VanDeCasteele, who recently stepped down as leader. Stacy Hornbuckle of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport now leads the organization. “She has the passion and energy to keep this going. She has a lot of contacts. I will continue to help out when and where I can,” VanDeCasteele said. “The ultimate goal is for us to serve God.”

For more information about Humble Dwellings, to volunteer or contribute, visit or email

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1 thought on “Humble Dwellings: helping people starting over

  1. I want to thank Humble Dwellings for helping me start over in my new apartment. They did an awesome job with decorating and making it feel like a home. I am so grateful and appreciative of this blessing. Even my cats felt good about their new home so much so that I ‘m having to negotiate with one cat over the recycler! Thank you again for this ministry.

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