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Obstacles Inspiring Innovation: How Local Habitat for Humanity is Adapting in the Face of COVID-19

Given the choice to sink or swim, small businesses and charities everywhere are getting creative to overcome the unprecedented challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Habitat for Humanity Sault Ste. Marie & Area (HFHSSMA) has put on their thinking caps in order to adapt their operations to the new world in which we find ourselves. Their first order of business? Innovating the Habitat ReStore.


If you’re unfamiliar with the brick-and-mortar shop on the corner of White Oak Drive, the Habitat ReStore is a home improvement outlet offering new and gently used building supplies, kitchens, décor, appliances, furniture and much more for a fraction of the retail price and without HST.


The ReStore is the flagship fundraising tool for Habitats across Canada, contributing greatly to Habitat’s ability to carry out the mission of building affordable housing for families in need. Having decided to temporarily close the local ReStore doors to the public on March 18th for the safety and wellbeing of the community, the team at HFHSSMA saw this as an opportunity for innovation.


“Closing the store was a difficult decision to make, but we knew it was the right decision for everyone’s wellbeing,” states Katie Blunt, Habitat’s executive director.


In the hopes of staying present in the community and continuing to raise funds to build homes, Habitat worked with Cavera Inc. to create an online sales platform.


“We are delighted to see Habitat for Humanity Sault Ste. Marie’s ReStore open online. ReStores are at the heart of many communities and they fuel Habitat’s home building in the Sault and across Canada,” notes Julia Deans, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada.


It’s not just the ReStore that HFHSSMA has had to adapt as of late, but many of their other operations as well. For instance, with staff working from home, the team has found creative ways to stay engaged. From Habitat Jeopardy and trivia over Zoom to voting for their favourite #HabitatHomeOffice via SurveyMonkey, HFHSSMA is keeping spirits up and volunteers connected during a time where social distancing is paramount.


Habitat is also reinventing the way they will be working with the families they serve. Prospective Habitat homeowners need to complete 500 volunteer hours with HFHSSMA before moving into their new home – whether that be by helping on build sites, assisting at the ReStore, or doing administrative work in the office. With social distancing protocols in place, the next family that HFHSSMA works with will need to complete these hours in new ways. Plans include writing letters to individuals in isolation to cheer them up, drawing thank you cards for donors/sponsors, and other community-minded tasks that can be done from home.


Now more than ever – safe, affordable housing is paramount. Public Health Agencies across the world are advising individuals to stay at home; however, some homes pose health risks to the occupants. Access to sanitation, clean running water, and purified air is essential to keeping families safe during the pandemic.


“During our application review we have observed many families reporting mold as a significant issue in their house, which aggravates respiratory issues such as asthma. For the families we serve, this crisis has definitely reinforced the importance of our mission” says Blunt


Even though fundraising has slowed, and construction will need to be delayed for some time, Habitat is actively preparing for their next build on Oakwood Street. They will be announcing the successful applicants – the next Habitat Homeowners – in the near future.


Visit the online shop by visiting

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