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Philadelphia ReStore benefits from PC(USA) Board of Pensions makeover

Habitat for Humanity affiliate says ‘the need is just so great’

by Lea Sitton Stanley | Board of Pensions

(Left to right) Mike Fallon, Edward Brady and James Chasten. (Photo provided)

PHILADELPHIA — James Chasten and Edward Brady of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia entered the Board of Pensions third floor. Exit signs glowed in darkened hallways, quiet except for the soft hum of the mechanical systems deep inside the 29-story building. Office chairs sat jumbled in the corners of bare cubicles.

Two weeks earlier, at the end of June, 84 employees had moved off the floor as a makeover of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Board of Pensions headquarters got underway. When the agency renegotiated its lease for the three floors it has occupied in a Philadelphia high-rise since 1996, it gained very favorable rent terms — and cash for renovations.

Employees will move two or three times as first the third floor, then the fourth, and, finally, the second are renovated. The work is expected to take about seven months. As employees move, chairs and office workstations will be left behind. The pickup by Mr. Chasten and Mr. Brady on July 14 was likely just the first by the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, the global nonprofit housing organization.

“It’s always great to reuse stuff, rather than have it go to a landfill, and to have it go to an organization that helps others, that’s terrific,” said Mike Fallon, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at the Board, as he rolled office chairs to the elevator alongside the two men. “Today, there will be about 90 chairs and some other furniture.”

Mr. Chasten, 23, who manages the warehouse for ReStore, Habitat’s discount home improvement store, said 20 chairs were bound for Habitat’s offices and 70 for ReStore. “Most office chairs are very comfortable,” he said, noting that people would buy them for their homes.

ReStore takes donations of furniture, appliances, building materials, and other items and sells them. Proceeds go into building and repairing homes. Money raised through the local ReStore has financed the construction of three homes in two years, said Greg Bradley, ReStore Donations Manager in Philadelphia.

Many Habitat affiliates operate a ReStore. “Here in Philadelphia, I’d say a good portion of our shoppers are setting up apartments or are treasure hunters,” Mr. Bradley said. “A lot of folks shop with us out of necessity.”

Mr. Bradley, 32, worked two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Habitat and then managed ReStore for two years before being named Donations Manager about six months ago. He wants to raise ReStore’s profile. Most people know about Habitat, he said, but not about the store, which supports Habitat’s mission.

“The need is just so great,” said Mr. Bradley, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who came to Philadelphia to study community development at Temple University and stayed to help make it “a city for everyone.” The local Habitat gets about 400 calls a week about housing and home repair, he said. It builds three to four homes a year and repairs about 100.

“It’s amazing what people are kind of quietly up against,” Mr. Bradley said of the families he encounters. “It will absolutely just drop your jaw.”

ReStore employs 10 to 11 people in Philadelphia and has anywhere from five to 30 volunteers at work on any given day. Workers travel to homes and businesses all over the city to pick up donations. Before arriving at the Board, Mr. Chasten and Mr. Brady, a ReStore truck driver, were at Lincoln Financial Field, picking up donations from the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Ninety-nine percent of my interactions, with donations, with people in the street, they’re all positive,” Mr. Brady said before pulling the truck away from the loading dock at the Board’s building. “It restores my faith in humanity.”

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