Jim Walker (left) and Chris Gow unload a few donations from the ReStore truck at their Orono Avenue location in Langford. The donations will then be cleaned up

Practising upcycling for the kids

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore covers the not-for-profit’s operational and admin budgets, so it can focus on building homes for families

The door opens to a strange, lobby-type area filled with old furniture, tables and office desks, mainly.

The warehouse visible through the next opening looks to be overflowing with random doors off their frames, seemingly randomly-strewn bins of construction material and all types of other miscellaneous household wares, including … wait … is that literally the kitchen sink?

Habitat for Humanity has built 18 residential homes in the Capital Region for families in need – numbers 19 to 22 are currently under construction – and they don’t get a dime of funding from the government or other foundations for operational expenses or administrative operations.

“The ReStore’s goal is to raise 100 per cent of our operational funds,” according to Yolanda Meijer, Habitat for Humanity Victoria’s executive director. “That’s the magic of it. It’s a great model and it’s sustainable, because we’re not subject to the whims of government programming and government funding.”

Jim Walker beams about the topic. He’s the manager of the Victoria ReStore on Orono Avenue in Langford, and it’s clear he loves what he does.

“We do so many great things as an organization,” he says. “I love my job. I’m not making a rich man richer; I’m making a difference in the community I love. Knowing that you go to work every day, and you’re basically Robin Hood, it feels really good.”

The difference Habitat for Humanity makes is a significant one, indeed.

For families whose household income is between $34,000 and $59,000 per year, struggling to get ahead in these tough economic times – often paying half of their income (or more) to a landlord – Habitat could be the hand up they need.

As Walker explains, it’s not that they directly impact homelessness by housing people, one of the common misconceptions about Habitat, but they do relieve some pressures on the housing market and help facilitate upward social mobility for families. It’s a situation whereby families can get out of subsidized housing, opening it up for others who might need it, as well.

Those families are essentially given a no-interest mortgage from Habitat, with payments based on their household income. That allows them to get ahead while paying into their own future, rather than paying the mortgage of a landlord. They build equity, as all the money they pay into their house is theirs.

“We’re all about the stability that a safe and decent place to stay creates for people,” Meijer says, adding it’s amazing what home ownership does for a family in terms of both personal pride and facilitating economic mobility.

The ReStore has another benefit for society, as well, diverting ton of recyclable or reusable material from the region’s landfill – 550 tons last year, actually, and that’s just from the Capital Region.

Much of what would normally go to the landfill can instead be donated to the ReStore and sold back to others. Walker would like the public to know anything they’re getting rid of that could possibly be resold, they’ll gladly accept. “If it’s in decent condition, and you don’t want it, we’ll take it.”

“We recently had our environmental assessment done,” he says, laughing, “and it turns out we’re net-positive in terms of greenhouse gas emissions – even after all the fuel we use to get to work and whatnot – because of what we divert from the landfill through donations. We reduce more greenhouse gas than we produce.”

Anyone interested in helping with this endeavour can drop off used goods, including building materials from renovation projects, for example, at 849 Orono Ave. in Langford. Pick-up for large items is available by calling at 250-480-7688.

Another way to help is to go by the store the next time you’re interested in saving money.

“All our stuff is priced between 25 and 50 per cent of what you’d pay retail,” Walker says. “So anyone looking for a good deal on anything for their home, right down to wall brackets, screws, nails or drawer-pulls, should come by, check it out, and if they see something they need, know that by buying it they’re helping kids.”

Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits to children of living in a safe and stable home environment such as the ones afforded to families through Habitat projects, Meijer says.

“Children are happier, healthier, perform better in school and develop better overall when they’re in a healthier environment,” she adds.

“That’s the thing,” Walker says. “We’re really a children’s charity in a cunning disguise. Really what we’re about is improving results for children over the long term.”

Find out more about Habitat for Humanity Victoria by visiting habitatvictoria.com.

mdavies@goldstreamgazette.com

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