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Venice Kendrick-Poe, a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity's Re-store on Main Street. / Contributed Habitat photo by Katrina Payne

Venice Kendrick Poe, a 59-year-old retired social worker, has spent at least one afternoon a week for five years volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on East Main Street.

The store, one of two in the Chattanooga area, helps produce enough revenue from recycled household goods and construction materials to build two Habitat houses a year, Kendrick Poe said.

The stores feel like a cross between Goodwill outlets and lumber yards. Shoppers can find everything from a like-new ceiling fan to buckets of random-colored paint.

Building contractors often drop off new and recycled construction goods — lumber, windows, siding — making the ReStore locations popular places for workers in the building trades to scoop up bargains. Homeowners also donate items such as antique furniture and knick-knacks.

Some say the ReStores on East Main Street and on Apison Pike in Ooltewah are hidden treasures.

For Kendrick Poe, volunteering weekly at the East Main Street ReStore has been energizing, she said. After 35 years working as a social worker for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, she said, she needed something to fill her nurturing impulses.

"I love this [ReStore] environment for lots of different reasons," said the Rossville, Ga., native. "I believe in what Habitat is all about — finding affordable housing for people who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to own their own home.

"They take responsibility for it, it's not just given to them. They have to work for it and pay for it."

A new report by the Business Research Center in the Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University shows that the 33 Habitat ReStores across Tennessee accounted for $16 million in revenue and 226 jobs in 2018.

Since opening in 1978, Habitat of Humanity of Tennessee has built more than 4,600 homes in the state, including 278 in the Chattanooga since the mid-1980s.

Kendrick Poe said she discovered the ReStore in 2014 when she was looking for volunteer opportunities for her then-teen-aged son. Too young to work on an actual Habitat for Humanity construction site — workers must be 18 for insurance purposes — the ReStore was a fall-back option.

Since he didn't drive at the time, Kendrick Poe said she drove her son to the ReStore on East Main Street where he swept floors, pulled weeds and helped people dropping off and picking up goods. She decided to volunteer, too, since she was making the trip anyway.

Once her son went off to college, she continued to work at the store.

"I stuck," she explained.

On a typical weekly shift, Kendrick Poe walks the store floor and reacquaints herself with the merchandise, which changes daily. She also spends time staging items to boost sales.

"A lot of times things get pushed to the corner," she said. "You can't sell it if you can't see it."

Clearing up a common misperception, Kendrick Poe said that items in the ReStores are never used in Habitat houses. The sales, however, do help raise money to purchase new materials and appliances.

At the end of the day, Kendrick Poe said her work at the ReStore gives her life purpose.

"Being retired, it's easy to lose track of what day it is and feeling like you are necessary," she said. "Having worked in social work for 35 years, I lost a lot of my identity when I retired."

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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