Story by Lauren Sable Freiman | Feb 28, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

River City Habitat for Humanity volunteers build up Jefferson City. 

Every Thursday and Saturday morning, a truck leaves the River City Habitat for Humanity Re-Store on Creek Trail Drive for stops throughout Jefferson City and the surrounding areas. It picks up everything from household goods, appliances, windows, and furniture to lighting, home decor, cabinets, and countertops. Then, it returns to 16,000 square feet of sales space, where the Re-Store turns unused and unwanted goods into cold, hard cash.

“River City Habitat started our Re-Store in November 1999, and it is one of our largest fundraisers to build new homes,” says Colleen Carl, the Re-Store’s assistant director and volunteer coordinator. “We give people a place to donate things that they know have a useful life for someone else. It keeps stuff out of the landfill, generates funds for us to build homes, and gives bargain shoppers a place to go and shop.”

Though the Re-Store does not accept hazardous waste, mattresses, box springs, televisions, or personal items like clothing, it does accept anything else of value. Some building materials are brand new, coming from vendors around town with overstock, but the majority of the Re-Store is filled with items generously donated by the general public.

Last year, the Re-Store grossed $320,000 in sales from items that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. According to Jim Hofmann, a River City Habitat board member and volunteer, and one of the original founders, 85 percent of that gross income goes directly toward building homes for families.

The Re-Store’s team of 60 volunteers is able to fix up many appliances and complete minor repairs to furniture to make for a profitable sale. They also have a group that salvages recyclable materials, which typically generates an extra $5,000 per year for the organization, Hofmann says.

“It takes many, many people doing what they do to make it go,”Hofmann says of the Re-Store. “Some of our 60 volunteers are at the store every time we are open plus other times, and some might come once a month. Most are retired people who bring with them a lifetime of experience and education and skills. You couldn’t go off to the market and buy that kind of experience.”

Funds from the Re-Store, along with monetary donations to River City Habitat, were integral in fulfilling a tremendous milestone this past fall – building the 100th River City Habitat for Humanity home. Habitat’s impact is actually twofold – each time it builds a new home for a local family, the organization donates the funds necessary to build a home overseas in places like Vietnam, Mozambique, Malawi, Nepal, and the Philippines.

While homes are typically built by a dedicated team of volunteers over the course of six or seven months, River City Habitat’s 100th home is notable because it was built by volunteers in just 98 days, with two days to spare in the challenge to build the 100th home in 100 days. The home is also the first to be equipped with a fire sprinkler system to ensure the safety of its occupants. The board has now approved that all future homes be equipped with a similar system, says executive director Susan Cook-Williams.

River City Habitat heads into 2017 with the goal of building an additional six homes, Cook-Williams says there is often an assumption that the organization gives away free homes, a notion she says is far from the truth.

“Our partner families receive a 25-year, zero interest loan, and they are paying a mortgage, taxes, and insurance,” she says. “They are also investing 350 hours of sweat equity, or 450 hours for a couple, which is like having another part-time job for them. It’s tough. It’s not an easy thing to go through.”

But once partner families are selected through a vigorous application, home visit, and interview process, River City Habitat is committed to ensuring success for its homeowners. They take part in classes on financial planning and home maintenance, and they are assigned a family support partner for further guidance and support.

“These are very important classes to help change people so they not only have a better home, but so they know how to take care of it and be successful with it,” Hofmann says. “These are people who don’t have enough income to qualify for a traditional loan but can pay a mortgage and take care of a home. If they fall below that threshold, we haven’t done them any favors. We want them to be successful.”

After nearly 25 years of service to the community, the key to River City Habitat’s success is no secret – it’s due in large part to the 400 to 500 people who volunteer annually to staff the Re-Store and build homes.

ReStore volunteer, Roger Weis

“We are all a part of the people we associate with, and there is no better group of people to associate with than people who give freely of themselves without expecting anything in return,” Hofmann says. “Our volunteers come with the mindset that they’re here because they want to be, and because they know it’s something important to do.”