When COVID-19 hit Oregon and Gov. Kate Brown issued stay-at-home orders throughout the state, Bend Habitat for Humanity ReStore did its duty and temporarily closed.
Now many businesses have reopened to their full or near-full capacity and working hours, but for ReStore, getting back into the swing of things has been slow going.
Still operating on reduced hours for shopping and donations, Sophie Paez, director of retail operations for Bend-Redmond Habitat for Humanity, says that the store located in Bend is running with a third of its volunteers back.
“Normally, we have 125 regularly scheduled volunteers,” she said, “We stopped volunteering when we (reopened) just so we could figure out how we were gonna do everything and didn’t want that many people coming and going.”
But like everything, a return to something normal is slowly moving forward with new volunteer orientations having begun again every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., hoping to rebuild the steady volunteer force.
“Anybody who has wanted to come back, have come back. A lot of people aren’t ready,” she said, “So that’s the key for us to getting to more hours again.”
Paez points out that the nature of ReStore’s operations is reliant upon the number of volunteers they have scheduled day to day.
“I think a lot of people just don’t think about it, they don’t get it. It’s a big store, but it is not Home Depot ... we are very limited according to how much volunteer help we have.”
Even with the limited hours, people are still flocking to the store to make purchases for their home improvement needs. “We’re doing surprisingly well in that respect,” Paez said.
“It’s always been a busy palace. I feel like I’m seeing a large number of new shoppers.”
Paez believes that while things are going pretty well with the limited hours, they’d probably “be going gangbusters if we were open our full hours.”
Because of the pandemic, the store recently opened the online shoprestorebend.org, which has some of the items in stock and available for pickup either in-store or curbside. The one slight difference from a traditional web store, however, is that customers won’t be charged for their items until they’re picked up. Credit card information is still required to hold the item until it’s picked up.
While furniture, hardware and power tools are always hot items in the store, recently people have been on the hunt for major appliances, and when ReStore gets a donation in, they’re gone immediately according to Paez. But much of what is highly purchased is dictated by the donations received.
“If we get a big door donation in, we sell a lot of doors,” she said explaining that the high-quality donations they get from the community are always welcome and needed. For a full, detailed list of what the store accepts, visit restorebend.org/donations.
“I think the parts that I’m most concerned about right now are that our hours are really, really terrible for contractors,” she said “That stinks.”
The donation window is open just three hours a day from 1-4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. “Every contractor I know is still working through those hours,” Paez said adding that if there is a contractor who wants to donate outside those hours to contact ReStore to make an arrangement to get items donated.
While donations can be dropped off during those open hours, ReStore also offers a pickup option for things that are too large to fit inside a passenger vehicle, but even that has been made more difficult.
“At the really hard peak of summer, we’ll get three weeks out,” she said on the typical schedule for pickup options, “We’ve been more out a month and maybe even up to five weeks it’s so booked out.”
“The public has had a wonderful amount of patience and grace on that.”
There is movement in what the next steps will be for Paez and her team including extending their hours for donations slightly to 5:30 p.m. to hopefully “be enough to get most of the contracting world ... give them an option that makes sense.”
Even though things have changed ReStore and Habitat for Humanity, they are still building homes and have recently started the NW Cottages project which is an entire cul-de-sac of 2 and 3-bedroom homes built by the organization which is still accepting applications for residents until Friday though Habitat for Humanity’s main website bendredmondhabitat.org and clicking on “Apply Now.”
Despite the changes and the slow regrowth of ReStores volunteer base, the vibe remains positive for Paez.
“It’s always been a pretty joyful place,” she said. “The crew is really positive, we just have a really fun culture, and that was the part I was really worried about the most in coming back to work and thinking ... without those volunteers and without that crowd of people, it would be just like, a ‘job.’ But I feel like things have stayed quite positive ... all in all things have stayed pretty peppy. I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a place to spend time.”