Creating opportunities through furniture

Philadelphia Community Corps helps train people to give them the skills to enter the construction industry.
Provided

Most nonprofits are just trying to maintain as much of their services as possible until the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Not the Philadelphia Community Corps, which helps to harvest materials from old buildings while equipping people with the skills they need to land a construction job.

Greg Trainor, PCC’s executive director, said his organization hopes to start a new initiative soon which will teach participants how to make furniture out of the wood collected by the group’s deconstruction efforts.

“I think a lot of people would choose not to launch a program right now because of coronavirus, but I think we have to just keep moving forward and adapt the best we can,” Trainor told Metro.

PCC just launched a fundraiser, to coincide with Giving Tuesday, to help get the idea off the ground. Their goal is to generate $12,000 by the end of December.

The furniture program would blend in nicely with PCC’s overall vision, which is to create opportunities through reuse.

Property owners call Trainor’s team in for big projects, like demolishing a house. They receive tax deductions, sometimes hefty ones, for donating materials to PCC.

Trainees assist contractors in extracting anything that’s salvageable, and PCC sells the items at its store, Philly Reclaim, which is tucked inside an industrial zone right near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge in Northeast Philadelphia.

Customers, which include frugal contracting firms, do-it-yourself homeowners and artists, buy the doors, windows, tiles, bricks and other items. That funding keeps the job training program going.

“It’s a unique model,” said Trainor, who started the corps nearly a decade ago. “We’re the only ones doing this in the Philadelphia region, although this has been done very successfully around the country.”

Philly Reclaim, based in a Tacony warehouse, sells reused materials recovered from demolition projects. PHOTO: Provided

Participants in the training programs are typically people who struggle to find work, like those exiting the prison system and people without a high school degree, though, Trainor said, it’s open to anyone looking for vocational skills.

Right now, due to the pandemic, trainees aren’t going out to construction sites — contractors are just bringing materials to Philly Reclaim.

The COVID-19 pandemic took over life only a few months after PCC moved into its new 20,000-square-foot Tacony warehouse. In the first couple weeks of March, Philly Reclaim’s sales plummeted.

“We were still in a very fragile state where people were finding their way to the new location, and we had to attract new customers,” Trainor said. “And then coronavirus happened, and it was like, oh crap, what now?”

PCC decided to offer a lucrative electronic coupon. Anyone could go to the organization’s website and receive a code allowing them to get a $100 gift certificate.

It worked, as the quarantined came in to gobble up supplies for their DIY projects.

“Our sales actually went up even though we gave out over $22,000 worth of building materials for free in April and May,” Trainor said. “It was sort of a crazy risk that we took, to give up that much for free.”

He predicts a difficult winter and, with a second scaled-back COVID-19 shutdown underway in Philadelphia, Philly Reclaim is again offering the $100 e-coupon, good for the remainder of the month.

Also during the pandemic, PCC created a library where residents can borrow tools at a nominal membership fee.

Trainees haven’t been heading to construction sites recently, due to the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: Provided

Philly Reclaim, Trainor said, plans to bring in furniture-makers and carpenters to clean up some of the store’s merchandise and start doing commissioned work for customers.

Then, those same craftspeople can lead the classes with small groups of four to six trainees to maintain social distancing. They will begin with simple projects, such as cutting boards, before moving on to more advanced pieces, he said.

After the program concludes, PCC will work with the participants to find employment, Trainor said.

“That might be working for a furniture-maker or it could just be like a construction job,” he added.

Even if they don’t get jobs in the industry, the class should give trainees the know-how to become their own entrepreneurs, building coffee tables and chairs in their basements or garages.

“They now have skills which could be like a side hustle that they could be making money off of,” Trainor said.

For more information about PCC and Philly Reclaim, go to www.philadelphiacommunitycorps.org.

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