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Baltimore project turns trash into housing treasures


July 23, 1997
Web posted at: 4:36 a.m. EDT (0836 GMT)

From Correspondent Natalie Pawelski

BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Keeping up with a house is a challenge, especially if money is tight.

In Baltimore, an unusual store called The Loading Dock is helping thousands of low-income families fix up their homes while also keeping tons of items out of the trash.

Some of the things in The Loading Dock's warehouse already have had a previous life in someone else's house. Some styles have been discontinued. Other items are late-model leftovers from building sites and renovations.


In fact, The Loading Dock's shelves are stuffed with building materials that would have ended up in the trash in most cities.

"I love that all this stuff which is normally wasted is going to be used," says Leslie Kirkland of The Loading Dock. "And it's all usable stuff."

Contractors, manufacturers and others who donate items can take a tax write-off and save on dumping fees by donating to The Loading Dock.

The store itself is a kind of members' warehouse for charities and low- income families who pay a handling fee -- usually about 1/3 of what an item would cost in a regular store.

"That's why I'm here," says customer Phyllis Brent. "To get a toilet, get some paint, get some tiles and any other treasures that come along."

Helping build dreams

Since setting up shop in 1984, The Loading Dock has helped fix up 27,000 homes. Along the way, it's kept 30,000 tons of building material out of landfills.

"Without The Loading Dock, affordable housing for us would not be affordable," says Greg Cantori.

Cantori works for one of The Loading Dock's best customers, Light Street Housing, which works to provide good homes in the inner city. The front windows at the organization's new headquarters came from The Loading Dock. So did doors, cabinets and tile used throughout the building, which will also house once-homeless women.

"We were able to get it for very inexpensive (prices)," Cantori says. "And because in this case our volunteers were doing all work, we didn't have the labor costs and we didn't have the material costs. So therefore we got a wonderful tile floor for a fraction of the cost."

The savings also made a big difference for Keith Ryer, a first-time home buyer whose house needed serious remodeling. His wife is allergic to carpet, so The Loading Dock found an old basketball court that was landfill-bound, and volunteers from Light Street Housing turned it into a hardwood floor.

"And that's how I ended up with a basketball court in the middle of my house," Ryer says.

The Loading Dock has fielded about 600 inquiries from around the country from people who want to set up similar stores in their own hometowns.

Proof, perhaps, of an idea whose time may have come.

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