The old adage “One man’s trash is another’s treasure” couldn’t be closer to the truth in Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores. Entering one of these centers is like being dropped smack into the middle of an eclectically ginormous garage sale.
What’s a ReStore?
Best described as a social enterprise, ReStores are home renovation/decor and building supply outlets created by Habitat for Humanity to fund the charity’s mission: To provide home ownership to deserving families.
Unique in concept, 100% of inventory is donated by commercial builders, leasing agents, manufacturers, businesses and local citizens. Products are sold at a fraction (50% - 80%) of the retail price to the general public - deal seekers who inevitably find those “I just have to have that” items on ReStores’ abundantly stocked shelves. In essence, a customer buying a bargain, helps Habitat build a home.
The world’s first ReStore opened its doors in Winnipeg in 1991. Yes, it’s a Canadian creation! Since that date, stores have been established in Australia, New Zealand and, most recently, in Europe. Canada and the USA have 95 and 850 centers respectively. Of the fourteen stores in BC, there are two thriving locations in the Okanagan: one in West Kelowna which opened in 2012; and a larger (23,000 sq. ft.) center in Kelowna established in 2015
Although the concept is relatively new, Rob Voisin, Vice-President of ReStore & Product Support for Canada says it’s growing fast. “In 2015, the 95 Canadian stores grossed a total of $55,000,000 in sales, with approximately $23,000,000 of that amount being profits for Habitat.”
In addition to funding Habitat for Humanity’s home building projects, shopping at a ReStore is an environmentally conscious decision. Much of what is sold is reusable material that would otherwise be thrown away. Since 1998, Voisin estimates ReStores have been responsible for diverting more than 250,000 tons of “good waste” from land fills.
We all have stuff we no longer need, use or even know why we bought in the first place. To this Deborah Guthrie, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity Okanagan, passionately declares, “Don’t dump it, donate it.”
Donations can be dropped off at either Kelowna location during regular store hours or, if it’s BIG stuff , a (curb only) pick-up can be arranged by calling a local store.
While every Habitat ReStore is a little different, most welcome donations of household goods, furniture, appliances and building materials. The two Kelowna stores, however, take an even broader approach.
“It’s easier to tell you what we don’t take than what we do. We do not accept clothing, mattresses and worn-out, damaged furniture. That’s about it,” Guthrie, explains. “We do take doors and windows, flooring, lighting and plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, electronics, molding, tiles, home decor items and everything else. We also accept new items...overstocked, seconds, returns and discontinued products from local businesses. Oh...and, we absolutely love full kitchens.”
For donations in excess of $100, Habitat will issue a tax receipt (upon request) based on the estimated ReStore sale price.
Why shop at ReStores?
For some, it’s simply thrift. For others, it’s all about going green, removing useable items from the global garbage stream. Many, however, just enjoy the artistic aesthetics of a warm worn finish or a cool retro style.
Thomas A. Edison once said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Many ReStore customers seem to have an abundance of both. They upcycle, repurpose and refurbish their ReStore gems so what’s old becomes new again - but with a twist.
The staff at ReStores Kelowna love to celebrate the fun of upcycling by holding regular contests to share ideas and honor their customers’ ingenuity. Check out Kelowna ReStores’ Website: www.habitatforhumanityokanagan.ca/restore and FaceBook Page: www.facebook.com/HabitatforHumanityOkanagan for best before and after pictures of repurposed or refurbished projects from the currently running competition for designers, “This to That for Habitat”. The winner will be announced April, 2016.
“What is it Wednesdays?”
New inventory arrives daily from a variety of donors and the turn-over is remarkably fast, so every trip to a ReStore offers something different. That uniqueness of inventory inspired the creation of “What is it Wednesdays?” – a post of a picture of the donated item on Habitat for Humanity, Kelowna’s Facebook Page.
“Often vintage items will be donated that staff can’t identify. We just don’t know what the thing is or what it was used for in the past,” Guthrie, says. “We decided to see if our Facebook supporters could help.”
When asked about the most unusual item ever donated, she’s stumped. “There’s so many.” Smiling, she recalls, “Someone brought in what our Friends on Facebook told us was a parrot feeder. Then there was a 1930’s Rolmonica, a player harmonica – sort of like a player piano, but you blow into it to make it play...
Let’s see....donations of antiques, original signed paintings and vintage Pez Candy Dispensers are reasonably common. We get some really interesting things come into the store.” Joking, she adds, “Even intimate items (wink, wink) forgotten in donated cabinets.”
Want to volunteer?
The majority (90%) of the ReStore staff are volunteers. From working in the warehouse or as a cashier, to helping load/unload merchandise and pricing and repairing inventory, the opportunities to volunteer abound.
For those who want to buckle on a tool belt, there are also lots of volunteer positions available on the Habitat build- sites.
There’s no place like home...
All Okanagan families deserve a decent, affordable and safe place to live. Habitat for Humanity Okanagan (a non-profit affiliate of the parent organization) is committed to making that dream a reality.
Prior to ReStores, Habitat Okanagan would fundraise, then build a home, then have to fundraise again before it could start construction on another build site. Guthrie explains:
“ReStores have changed all that. All net profits from the ReStores in Kelowna go towards building homes locally, from Osoyoos to Armstrong, here in the Okanagan...We are now able to build continuously – with no time gaps between the construction of each project.
In 2016, we will be able to build nine homes for qualified families. Without the two Kelowna ReStores, we probably would have been able to build only two.”
From the funds raised by Habitat Okanagan, $5,000 per year (the estimated equivalent to the cost of building one home in the developing world) is designated for global home-building initiatives. The balance stays in the Okanagan. In the past five years, the Okanagan affiliate of Habitat has built a total of thirty-one homes: two in the Penticton area; two in Vernon; five in West Kelowna; six in Peachland; and sixteen in the Kelowna area.
The Habitat home building model allows deserving families to achieve greater stability and improve their quality of life, while building equity in their future. But it is a hand up, not a hand out. Houses built by Habitat are sold at fair market value – not given - to qualified families. Even though there is no monetary down-payment and financing is by way of affordable, no interest mortgages, sweat equity is required. Families must invest 500 hours of their own labour to help Habitat and its volunteers and corporate partners/contractors to construct their homes.
In 2013, Habitat ReStores were awarded the Corporate and Social Responsibility Award from the Retail Council of Canada, an honour that recognizes a retailer-initiated program that demonstrates a creative, collaborative response and successful fulfillment of community needs.
That’s what Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores are all about. Good finds, funding good work, while helping to save the environment!
Want to shop, donate or volunteer?
Contact: ReStore Kelowna, #800-2092 Enterprise Way, Ph: (778) 755-4346; or ReStore West Kelowna, 1793 Ross Rd., Ph: (778) 755-4346.