Habitat Store was a dream for Sandi Risdal, who's retiring after 15 years as director

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
After 15 years, Sandi Risdal is retiring from her position as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa.

Sandi Risdal’s vision for Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa had a major impact on the organization during her 15 years as executive director.

Risdal is retiring and an open house in her honor will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at Habitat in Ames. The party is open to the public, and light food and drink will be served.

What started as a garage sale at her home has evolved into a large Habitat Store at 3504 Grand Ave.

“When I started, my biggest dream was to have a store,” Risdal said.

It was a challenge to get it started.

“Our first store was in my garage, and my husband said, ‘OK, you can have one garage sale, but at the end of the day, we need to get all of this stuff out of here,’” she said. “And that year we went through the winter with bathroom stools and sinks lined up along the edge of the garage.”

The next summer, Habitat held a garage sale in the parking lot of its former office, but at the end of the sale, Risdal and her volunteers had to haul all the unsold merchandise back inside.

“We rented a warehouse on North Second and then we had a sale one Saturday a month,” she said.

People were already lined up waiting at the door to get in at 9 a.m. on those Saturdays, so they started holding the sales two Saturdays a month.

Then Habitat moved up the street to a slightly bigger warehouse and were open three Saturdays a month, all the while having office space in a separate location.

“Then we finally moved to our East Lincoln Way store and we were open three days a week,” Risdal said. “And it just kept grow, grow, grow, growing — which was so fun to see because we had it start from the beginning like that.”

Pastor Randy Abell of Heartland Baptist Church approached Habitat about the possibility of using the church as the congregation was moving.

The building was perfect because it had room for a large store as well as office and storage space, Risdal said.

Sandi Risdal poses among pieces of furniture for sale at the Habitat Store. The creation of the store was one of her major accomplishments during her time as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa.

“We are so grateful to Pastor Abell and his congregation,” she said. “Actually there are three Habitat families that go to his church, so that was kind of a bonus too. We said, ‘You know, it was just meant to be.’”

Typically, a Habitat ReStore is a combination of recycled or reused items along with new items, Risdal said. But the Habitat Store in Ames is stocked completely with gently used, donated items from people in the community and surrounding communities.

The Ames store’s biggest seller is furniture, but it also sells building materials, appliances and tools.

“But boy, the furniture flies in and out of here,” Risdal said. “It’s such a unique store because the items change from week to week. I’m going to have to come here as a customer now that I’m retiring.”

The Habitat Store’s inventory is more affordable than new furniture, she said, and with supply shortages in new furniture markets during COVID-19, it was a challenge for customers to find things elsewhere.

Some of the items for sale are available from Habitat’s online store, which can be found at hfhci.org.

The donated items are sold and the money is used to build homes.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on building homes because volunteers couldn’t be on site, this year Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa is busy.

New home construction at 618 10th St. is just finishing, a new build is beginning at 1126 Grand Ave., and there’s a remodel project at 241 Village Drive.

“So we’ve got three projects in the works and we’re back to building, back to helping families,” Risdal said.

She said Habitat’s dedicated volunteers are among the reasons for the organization’s success locally. Some of them have been with her since she started 15 years ago — like Bob Bulman, who helped her haul items in and out during those early sales and now still works in the store.

“Bob was one of the first people to drive around in his own pickup and pick up things people were donating,” she said.

That was before Habitat had its own truck, and this spring a second truck will be added.

“We have really good volunteers, and they’re so dedicated and so supportive of our mission,” she said.

That mission to provide adequate housing and an opportunity for homeownership has resulted in dozens of families owning their own homes. The families provide many hours of sweat equity in the projects and also take on an affordable mortgage.

“The remodel will be our 69th house,” Risdal said. “This year, two of our families paid off their mortgages. In one family, the mother had worked overtime and long hours and done extra work to pay her mortgage off early.

“To be able to watch that and know how hard they worked on that — that warms my heart.”

Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa covers Story, Hamilton and Hardin counties. Habitat homes have been built or remodeled in Jewell, Story City, Roland, Webster City, Eldora, Iowa Falls, Nevada, Gilbert, Kelley, Huxley and Ames.

In her retirement, Risdal is taking up photography and will spend time gardening at her home north of Roland. Although her last day of working full time at Habitat was April 9, she plans to continue working part time for the next several weeks.