Turning trash into treasures 'Excellent program': The Loading Dock has been honored as the nation's "first successful, self-sufficient nonprofit recycler of building materials."


The Loading Dock -- created to salvage trash to repair low-income housing -- has received a National Excellence Award from the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Baltimore organization has been cited as the nation's "first successful, self-sufficient nonprofit recycler of building materials."

Lumber, windows, solar panels. A maple gymnasium floor. A gargoyle water fountain. Toilets, tubs and kitchen sinks. These were among the stacks of construction supplies that the organization offered recently at about a third of retail price to eligible buyers.

"We recycle trash that's otherwise headed for the landfill. It's the old story of 'one person's trash is another's treasure,' " said Leslie Kirkland, a co-directors.

She and co-director Aaron Miripol led a group of staff members to a United Nations ceremony in New York recently after being selected from 200 model programs. The Loading Dock was recognized as one of 25 innovative U.S. examples of community building, along with such famous programs as Habitat for Humanity.

Its work will be shown in June to 25,000 social leaders in Istanbul, Turkey, at the U.N. Habitat 2 Conference on Human Settlements, held once a decade.

The Loading Dock is also competing for a White House award to recognize work that contributes to "sustainable development." It one of 20 finalists chosen from a field of 300 projects.

In its 11 years, the Loading Dock has retrieved 25,000 tons of materials, saved nonprofit groups and low-income people $5 million and helped rehabilitate 20,000 homes, the directors said.

Twice a year, it has a paint giveaway to make room in its jammed warehouse at 2523 Gwynns Falls Parkway, in the Northwest Business Center near Mondawmin Mall. It gave away 500 gallons in October.

On a recent walk through the busy operation, Ms. Kirkland and Mr. Miripol explained the work of 16 staffers -- average age 33 -- as they passed through rows of toilets, scores of doors and old friends selecting items there as they have for years.

Bob Pezzini, project manager of St. Pius V Housing Committee Inc., was scouting for insulation. The work was under way in low-income housing units that the community development corporation manages in Harlem Park.

"We've gotten a lot of high-quality stuff here," Mr. Pezzini said. "Paint, door locks, caulking, spackling, cabinets, everything. It's an excellent, excellent program." He walked away with a huge roll of insulation after paying cash, the required tender.

Savings can be substantial. For example, toilets cost between $20 and $30, compared with prices of new ones, which are sold by retailers at $50 to $150, Mr. Miripol said.

Junk it's not, in many cases. He pointed to huge piles of neatly bunched strips of maple boards.

"A school in Westminster gave us 4,000 square feet of perfectly good hardwood maple gym flooring," he said. "Someone will make good use of that. Most of the donations are unused or good quality like this."

Mr. Miripol said the Loading Dock is 85 percent self-sustaining through its high-quality donations, though it does get some grant money. Volunteers help, especially conducting regular workshops showing members how to put in a window, lay carpeting or do other home projects.

Ms. Kirkland, typically committed to stabilizing urban communities, said, "I like working here because it's a business with a heart. It's based on common sense."

The Loading Dock's truck collects most of the donated goods and brings them to the 21,000-square-foot warehouse, which was moved to its current location in 1987 from its home near

Memorial Stadium. Other goods are left at collection sites at landfills.

Mr. Miripol said the city's Department of Housing and Community Development has been an especially strong partner.

John Black, a former labor organizer and the Loading Dock's outreach director, said the activity has created its own "subculture" of donors, buyers and volunteers. "We're motivated get people to own and fix their own homes and be self-sufficient."

He said the warehouse doesn't compete with companies such as Home Depot and Hechinger. People might buy half of their supplies at the Loading Dock and find the other half at a big commercial store. Satisfied buyers come back time and again, sometimes for exotic materials. Nonprofit buyers snapped up the solar panels and the gargoyle fountain. The gym floor will find a taker soon.

The word is spreading in Baltimore, thanks to Hope Cucina, the )) former executive director, and staffers. Baltimore's reuse center and others are working to set up a national network to be called REDO (Reuse Development Organization) to create more centers.

Baltimore staffers have visited or given warehouse tours or phone advice to about 300 groups.

How the Loading Dock works

Who gives goods

The Loading Dock's 300 company donors give surplus (often older, discontinued) homebuilding stock, and 3,000 people offer used but reusable materials. For donors, the giving is an act of recycling and a tax write-off. It clears space for replacement materials, saves the cost and effort of trips to the dump and gives donors the sense that they're making poorer neighborhoods more stable.

How donations arrive

The Loading Dock's truck collects most of the goods and brings them to its 21,000-square-foot warehouse, which moved to Gwynns Falls Parkway in 1987 from its original home near Memorial Stadium. Other goods are left at collection sites at landfills.

Who buys materials

More than 5,000 people have become members, paying $5 a year, after showing proof of fixed or low income. Fixed-income seniors are major buyers

Eligibility is determined by the city's Department of Human Services or by nonprofit partners.

About 1,700 churches, low-income housing programs and other nonprofit organizations have become members at $10 a year.

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