On Wednesday mornings, retirees George Issa and Gene Jolie, each 61, can be found at the ReStore on Route 2 in Charleston, one of dozens Habitat for Humanity ReStores across the US and Canada. The ReStore sells donated building materials, appliances, and furniture to raise tens of thousands of dollars for Habitat’s building projects.
With state and federal funding streams especially thin lately, Issa says, the ReStore has kept South County Habitat (southcountyhabitat.org) going strong. On top of providing funding, the store keeps items that developers or homeowners might otherwise throw away from ending up in landfills.
“For a 60-something-year-old, this is a pretty good place to end up,” laughs Jolie. He says working part-time as manager of Habitat’s ReStore has allowed him to give back to the community. The local Habitat, meanwhile, has built or renovated 42 affordable homes in South County since it was established in 1990.
Appliances fill up one of the rooms at the ReStore — refrigerators, ranges, sinks, and even a gas fireplace, complete with fake logs. Couches, chairs, and three tables, set with glasses and placemats, overload the second room. At the far end of the room is a bundle of shining light fixtures, a faded stool covered in blue plaid fabric, and a framed poster of a man in Renaissance-era garb.
Among the objects donated recently was a $2000 couch, sold to a volunteer for $150. Donations following a home renovation in Jamestown yielded cherry mantels, French doors, granite sinks, and custom windows.
With donations streaming in, the ReStore depends on a force of volunteers who Issa calls the organization’s “lifeblood.” Among them is Marie Tedeschi, who has volunteered at the Re-Store for several months. Tedeschi gives tours to customers, washes and polishes the furniture, and unpacks donations.
“I’m getting good at moving things,” says Tedeschi. “I am 81 years old. I have to have things to do. I’ve always been a doer. It’s just that I have to keep moving.”
Gene Jolie shakes his head in amazement at Tedeschi’s dedication. “Sometimes I’ll see her out in the parking lot carrying a couch,” he says.
Linda Hull, 68, a retired administrative assistant, volunteers in the office at South County Habitat for Humanity, as well as for soup kitchens and other local charities. Hull says she was motivated to volunteer partly by seeing the beautiful homes that Habitat for Humanity had helped construct in Westerly, near her home in South Kingstown.
“I don’t have the money [to give], but I have the time,” she explains.
Though many retired folks have donated their time, the ReStore has attracted “service-oriented” volunteers, Jolie says, from all different age groups, including college students, profes-sionals, high school kids, and their parents.
Issa says he has hopes that the ReStore will one day be able to expand to a bigger location with more room outside for building supplies, as well as expanded store hours, since it is currently open only on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm.
In the meantime, South County Habitat continues to provide affordable housing options — and endless volunteer opportunities — for dozens of Rhode Islanders.