EASTON – There is good news at Habitat for Humanity Choptank’s retail division, and there is bad news.
Business is booming at Habitat ReStore, the retail outlet at 8648 Commerce Drive whose proceeds are used to fund Habitat Choptank’s work.
“My goodness, we are on the map!” says ReStore Manager Lee Weldon. Thanks in part to the rebounding housing market, new sales records were set in March, April and May. In the quarter ended June 30, ReStore contributed $30,000 to Habitat Choptank, bringing the total that ReStore has raised since it opened in November 2010 to more than $230,000. Sales for the quarter were up 12.5 percent, and 11.25 percent for the full fiscal year. That’s the good news.
However, Weldon, Assistant Manager Chris Walls (ReStore’s only other paid employee) and their dedicated band of volunteers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the inflow and outgo of gently used building materials, furniture, housewares and appliances. In his latest quarterly report, Weldon said the volunteer situation is “Reaching desperation levels.” In addition, the ReStore is bursting at the seams. That’s the bad news.
In short, Habitat ReStore is becoming a victim of its own success. “We like what we do here, and we love being able to support Habitat’s mission of building simple, decent, affordable homes for God’s people in need,” says Weldon, “but we need more help to keep doing it.”
In an average month, it takes about 60 people to keep ReStore running smoothly. But summertime is anything but average. Rather, it’s an especially challenging time for Weldon and his crew. “It’s the busiest time of the year, in terms of sales and donations,” he says. At the same time, it’s also the season when volunteers, like everyone else, go away on vacation.
Weldon is looking to recruit, not only former construction volunteers, but also “people who want to support Habitat, but have a different skillset from construction.” Good people skills, for example, are needed for customer service. Construction experience is helpful, but not necessary, as is a general knowledge of hardware and building materials.
“It’s the people in the store that make it work,” says Weldon. “Without the dedicated volunteers, none of the rest of it could happen.” And the more volunteers, the better: “It makes everybody’s job easier if we have lots of help.”
Volunteers perform many tasks at ReStore: pricing merchandise; scheduling trucks; customer service; and warehousing. Intake volunteers unload, store, clean up and perform simple repairs on donated items.
Department leaders are needed in hardware, appliances, electrical, home décor, seasonal and especially plumbing. Leaders know the merchandise in their departments, are able to price items appropriately, advise customers and, says Weldon, “make sure people get the right thing for the right purpose.”
Volunteering at ReStore does not represent a major time commitment. Volunteers are only expected to put in at least four hours a week. And if they have physical limitations, Weldon will work around them. “We take all comers,” he says, “and try to keep them busy.”
Volunteers work the following shifts: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 12 to 4 p.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; and 8 to 12, 10 to 2 and 12 to 4 on Saturdays.
Volunteers, by definition, are unpaid. Yet working at ReStore has its benefits. “We try to keep it a fun environment,” says Weldon. “It’s a great spirit of camaraderie here.” In addition, perks include a T-shirt after just 12 hours of service; employee discounts; eligibility for Volunteer of the Month; an annual banquet; and service awards for highly committed volunteers.
Becoming a volunteer is easy. Orientations are held the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Anyone age 15 or older can volunteer, and Service Learning credit is available for students. A volunteer waiver must completed, and it can be found online at habitatchoptank.org//registration.html.
Because ReStore’s warehouse is rapidly filling up, says Weldon, “We can only accept and resell the nicest things.” The fact that they receive them is “a sign of the generosity of our community.”
In the final quarter of fiscal year 2013, the number of donations rose 44 percent. Truck pickups increased 34 percent, due in large part to the addition of Saturdays to the pickup schedule. As a result, the number of miles logged was up 28 percent.
Although area contractors and building supply stores, such as Easton Hardware, Lowe’s and West & Callahan donate surplus materials, “Our primary source of donations continues to be individuals” who are renovating or redecorating their homes, says Weldon. And while “We appreciate all of our donors,” he says, “If you have something you wouldn’t pay for, please don’t bring it to us.” And he asks that donations be made only during regular store hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re always looking for more and better donations,” says Weldon. Even a broken appliance can be recycled for its scrap metal value. But ReStore is unable to accept certain items: opened paint cans; mattresses and box springs; upholstered furniture that is torn, stained or faded; clothing; and things that are obviously broken or not working.
To volunteer or to arrange for pickup of items you wish to donate, contact Habitat Choptank’s Restore at 410-820-6186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Peter Howell for Habitat for Humanity