October 8, 2008

House Rescue Package

By Arline A Fleming; George Issa

Habitat for Humanity volunteers salvage major household items from one house and sell them to help pay for building another.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Kitchen cabinets were flying off the walls of a Snug Harbor house one recent bright October day, along with bathroom fixtures, some windows, and doors.

They were flying not due to storm or hurricane, but because volunteers from South County's Habitat for Humanity had made their scheduled landfall at this soon-to-be-demolished house.

What these volunteers removed amounted to a truckload of building materials to be sold at reduced prices at Habitat's Shannock ReStore, where revenues that were generated help fund the building of additional houses for area people in need. The local program has constructed more than 42 homes; part of the money needed to do so comes from situations like the recent pre-tear-down in South Kingstown.

"We call it a deconstruct, and we don't do it a lot," said George Issa, Habitat's production manager. "We're between projects, and we're waiting for our next house to get going. I get more phone calls to do this than I can deal with."

But storage is an issue, Issa said, so he pursues only quality donations for the ReStore warehouse; Habitat needs to be able to sell the donated appliances and fixtures.

"People want us to take complete houses all the time, but moving them is very expensive and you have to have some place to put them. Pretty much I tell them no.

"If the house is recently renovated, I'll take the appliances, maybe the cabinets."

ISSA SAID HE is often surprised at what is available. Unused, high-end brand-name appliances that he can turn around and sell at a 75-percent savings to the customer, he said. New overstocks and discontinued items are also heavily donated by contractors and corporations, he said. Donations are tax-deductible.

As offers of un-smudged gas ranges come to him, along with things such as a recent "pristine refrigerator that I'm not sure they ever put anything in," Issa continues to marvel at the donations. And he recalls one reason why South County Habitat for Humanity established the ReStore section of its facility to begin with.

An offer came from a Jamestown homeowner who had plans to update a home. There would be good building materials for the taking. Issa took them.

"I must have taken out 20 sets of French doors, a cherry mantel, custom windows," he recalled.

IN 2006, HABITAT built an operations center at Route 2 and Shannock Road in Charlestown, where it set aside warehouse space for just such windfalls. While there are Habitat ReStore warehouses across the nation, the one in Charlestown was the first in Rhode Island. The ReStore warehouse is part of a two-story, 10,000-square- foot center that includes Habitat office and meeting space.

Each Wednesday, a team of volunteers gathers there to either assist with a house under construction, or deconstruct what they can from an existing structure.

Gene Jolie of Richmond manages the ReStore efforts for the local nonprofit.

"We're always pressed for space," he said as the volunteers loaded the ReStore truck with a stainless-steel kitchen sink with a garbage disposal, multiple kitchen cabinets, and bathroom fixtures. "Right now we have four or five sets of kitchen cabinets.

"It's more fun than it's work," Jolie added, praising a long list of volunteers, ranging from a woman in her 80s to a teenage boy who shows up every week to help in theReStore warehouse.

"I have a person who recruits volunteers, and then volunteers, too. It's a lot of fun."

IT WAS A lot of sweat and dust as well on the warm October morning when the Wednesday-morning group pried cabinets and counters back from the walls. But Jolie felt their efforts would not only, in the end, benefit a Habitat family, but also be a boon to the environment.

Recycling the cabinets, the sinks, the fixtures, the windows, keeps them out of the landfills, he said.

"We're recycling and reusing, and it all won't have to be trashed."

The ReStore is open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the number there is (401) 213-6716. To contact South County Habitat for Humanity, 1555 Shannock Rd., in the Shannock section of Charlestown, call (401) 213-6711 or check www.southcountyhabitat.org

"We call it a deconstruct, and we don't do it a lot."

Originally published by Arline A Fleming, Journal Staff Writer.

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