Reuse is big business for Habitat

What goes up, must come down. In the case of many homes around southeastern Wisconsin, Habitat for Humanity is around for both.

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To most, Habitat for Humanity’s work to build up neighborhoods is well-known. However, its lesser-known deconstruction team works year-round, gathering and repurposing materials from homes and business undergoing remodels or demolitions. In 2018, the deconstruction team salvaged more than $670,000 worth of materials, selling these items to the public in Habitat’s ReStore shops.

The deconstruction program has been a part of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity since 2012. Since then, the team’s 515 salvaging jobs have produced more than $2.9 million in product, proceeds of which directly support the construction of safe, affordable homes in Milwaukee.

The deconstruction program was started by two volunteers: husband and wife duo Ken and Cindy Gear. As a former interior designer, Cindy began volunteering at ReStore as a way to help prevent usable materials from ending up in local landfills. With her knowledge of home remodeling, Cindy saw an opportunity to help local families who didn’t know what to do with reusable kitchen cabinets during a remodel.

Ken Gear directs the deconstruction team while salvaging items from the Sisters of St. Francis buildings prior to their demolition

Teaming up with her husband Ken, who was also recently retired, the duo built a team of volunteers made up primarily of friends and acquaintances. Developing processes and procedures, the team has grown into one of the area’s most trusted salvage services, raising funds for Habitat while keeping thousands of pounds of reusable materials out of local landfills.

Cindy Gear salvages items from a former downtown law office prior to its remodel into the Drury Plaza Hotel

Nowadays, the deconstruction services team is salvaging from homes and businesses three days a week and, though managed by a dedicated staffer, is still driven primarily by volunteers. It’s truly astonishing the impact dedicated volunteers like the Gears have made on our community.

Not only are reusable items given a second life, but they’re available to purchase at affordable prices at Milwaukee Habitat’s three ReStores.

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In Milwaukee’s Midtown neighborhood, Habitat for Humanity is building and repairing 100 homes through 2021. The funds from the sale of these salvaged materials is helping create the highest concentration of affordable single-family homes built in Milwaukee since World War II.

“We’re able to bring funds into our community that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. In fact, those funds would’ve been dumped into a local landfill,” said Jake Brandt, marketing director for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity.

As the program heads into another year of operation, they’re looking for more people who hope to give old things a new purpose.

You can shop at local ReStore locations in:

In addition to Deconstruction services for folks remodeling or demolishing, ReStore also offers a free pickup service for large donations of furniture, appliances and other home goods.