McPHERSON — LaVon Ediger spent 33 years in the construction business, but there was always one thing that bothered him.
“When we were done with a project, there were often used or remodel materials left over that we didn’t know what to do with. The owners usually just wanted us to throw them away.”
That seemed awfully wasteful to him and, as it turned out, to others that he discussed the issue with. The answer seemed to be to find a way to reuse those materials.
Following his retirement, Ediger and a group of seven other people began meeting to come up with a plan for a “Mennonite Home Depot” where new and used residential and commercial building materials, furniture, appliances and tools could be donated, cleaned up and sold at deeply discounted prices.
The objective: “Saving Resources, Helping Others.” The answer: the ReUse It Center.
“The idea took hold in April of 2010,” Ediger said. The concept was presented to the First Mennonite Church, where it received a positive reception.
“We started with a blank sheet of paper and that developed into an exploratory committee. Then we had to figure out how to put it all together,” he said. “It took us over a year, and then in mid 2011 we started looking for buildings.” Nearly 40 possibilities would be explored before the organizers settled on a commercial building, purchased with funds from local grants and donations from individuals.
The ReUse It Center opened its doors to customers as a 501c3 nonprofit corporation on Nov. 1, 2011.
“When we had our open house there, a friend of mine came in and said, `I see one problem: you’re going to outgrow this in a year.'” Ediger recalled. “We lasted four years there.” The response was immediate and overwhelming.
The plan from the beginning was to have the ReUse It Center grow beyond a church organization into a community asset, which it quickly did.
“It’s a guilt reliever store. People want to get rid of this stuff, but they don’t want to take it to the landfill. And there are people who can’t afford new stuff, and this helps them out,” Ediger said.
“Part of the success is that people who were in the Depression were taught that you don’t throw anything away, you save everything. And then you have young people who have the `green’ mindset, so you have both of these things operating,” he said. Customers who need a new sink or stove, but can’t afford a new one can find a good, used item at a bargain price.
The store is staffed by volunteers with the same outlook. But the original site, with only about 6,000 square feet of space, was quickly bulging at the seams.
LeRoy Schmidt, chairman of the center’s board of directors, had explored the possibility of purchasing the east half of the old TG&Y store on the west edge of McPherson.
The first building was sold and the 30,000 square foot building was purchased in the fall of 2015, affording the ReUse It Center five times more operating space.
After being closed for only a month to move into its new facilities, the ReUse It Center reopened on Dec. 1, 2016.
“It’s a much bigger job moving in, than moving out,” said Schmidt. He said a lot of research and praying went on as the board considered whether there would be enough donations of goods, volunteers and customers to justify the move.
He needn’t have worried.
Shulah Neff, who came onboard as the store manager in June 2015, is the only paid employee of the ReUse It Center. She said the store currently operates with 120 volunteers, who provided 8,700 hours of work during the last year’s operation.
The store now has a Wednesday work day to process, clean and, if necessary, repair donated items before they are priced and placed on the floor for sale. A total of 16 different departments are stocked by the volunteers, with more than 10,000 items now in the store inventory.
“We were really getting backlogged, stuff was piling up,” she said. No sales are made on Wednesdays.
“Our biggest mission is to charities,” said Schmidt, explaining that proceeds from the ReUse It Center go to a wide variety of helping agencies, including six McPherson County ministerial alliances, rather than to individuals. A total of 18 charities receive support from the ReUse It Center.
“We plant the seed,” he said. “I’ve heard it said that anybody can count the number of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. It’s like a pebble in water, it spreads out to other organizations to people in need.
“I see this continuing to grow, because people see this as something they really want to do,” Schmidt said.
Bob Robertson, a retired real estate appraiser, confirmed that. “I have a lot of friends here. I can look forward to Wednesday and Thursday every week. I love to joke around with the customers … people are fun.”
He has volunteered at the ReUse It Center for about two years and puts in about 15 hours a week between the sales floor and the repair area.
“This and Habitat for Humanity finally gave me hobbies that I could retire to,” he said.
For information on how to donate items or to work as a volunteer, contact Shula Neff at 620-245-0122, or via email at: email@example.com. ReUse It Center hours are: Tuesday, noon to 4 p.m.; Thursday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mike Berry/ReUse It Center Volunteer
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