A different kind of thrift store
by Angelos Kyriakides
When people hear the words “thrift store,” lumber and flooring tiles aren’t usually the kind of items that come to mind. However if anyone were to venture into one of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, those are the kind of products they are likely to find. ReStores are thrift stores that sell home improvement items to help fund Habitat for Humanity’s work throughout the world.
It’s a social enterprise, selling building materials and supplies to help fund the work of Habitat for Humanity. A social enterprise is a business that funnels its profits into non-profit work, helping to accomplish a lot of good work.
Since 1976 Habitat for Humanity has been building homes and partnering with families all across the world, To date, they’ve housed 9,800,000 people, a number which is steadily increasing. They offer families who are willing to partner with them a chance at sustainable living by building houses and giving them a payment plan that suits their needs. Partnership consists of, among other things, putting in 500 work hours, called “sweat equity”, and engaging in tutorials on how to budget and be a good neighbor. Ninety-three percent of families enrolled in the program are successful, fully purchasing their own home. This is an interesting statistic as 93 percent of people who are raised in poverty tend to stay in poverty. The work of Habitat for Humanity is helping to break the poverty cycle at the same rate in which it’s occurring.
The first Habitat for Humanity office in Canada opened in 1985 in Winkler, Manitoba. It wasn’t long after, only two years, that the first Canadian affiliate chapter opened in Winnipeg and since then they’ve been able to house over 3,000 families in Canada.
Winnipeg is also where the idea of the ReStores began, something which has had a dramatic impact on the financial situation of the organization.
In 1991 a 15 year old boy suggested to a Habitat for Humanity staffer the idea that they should sell used building materials and supplies. That spark of insight proved to be invaluable. After ReStores were created, home improvement franchises started donating what are called “return to vendors”, items that are brand new, but due to store’s needs are no longer carried. These items were formerly sent back to the vendors who sold them and then had them destroyed, on a wide scale.
Today these products find a welcome home at ReStores and are sold for half the price, all brand new items.
There are around 1400 ReStores throughout the world in 5 different countries, 100 of them in Canada. In the Lower Mainland people can visit a ReStore in Burnaby, Vancouver, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver or Chilliwack.
ReStores have been so successful in putting finances back into the mission of Habitat for Humanity that they now cover all of the administrative, fundraising and management costs, this means that 100 percent of cash donations given to the organization goes into building homes. Not only has the ReStore program positively affected finances, it’s also had a positive impact on the environment. Because items are no longer going to waste, there is less garbage going into its landfills. It’s safe to say that the idea has been a win-win situation for everyone involved, be it home improvement companies, Habitat for Humanity, or people needing homes.
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian non-profit organization that relies a lot on the power of people willing to help. Alan Wilson, who works in the Community Relations, offers his thoughts on how people can participate: “People can donate. If anyone has goods around their house that they don’t need or want, they can donate them to their local ReStore. It’s best to send a picture of the item first so they can determine whether the item has the potential to be listed or not. ReStores also do pick ups and have what’s called a ‘deconstruction crew’ that’s able to remove furnishings without damaging them. Companies are also encouraged to donate goods and tax receipts are provided for all donations. Second, people can choose to shop at a ReStore. Not only will they find great deals but the money spent helps people to escape the burden of poverty. Thirdly, people can volunteer.” Wilson says this method of help is vital to HFH’s mission; “We are a volunteer driven organization, and it’s only through that, that we’re able to accomplish what we’re able to accomplish.” People can volunteer in building houses or at one of the ReStores that help houses to be built.
Despite the challenges of today’s housing situation, be it locally or abroad, ReStores and Habitat for Humanity are helping turn the tide by making a real difference in people’s lives.
To get involved or learn more visit their website at www.habitatufv.ca.