Living Hope's The Wood
● By Claudia Mosby
The Wood WorkersNovember 2014
By Claudia Mosby
Photos: Betsy Erickson
Lisa Payne discovered the Living Hope food cooperative when a divorce left her and her children with financial hardship; Brandon Hunter found it when he was without permanent shelter. Unexpectedly, both found more than food to feed their hunger.
“We’ve been doing this for about two years,” says Hunter, referring to the unique, hand-hewn furniture he and Payne make for the nonprofit out of the reclaimed wood it gathers.
“I was coming here when they were feeding the homeless and was introduced to another nonprofit for services,” he says. “When I finished with that, I came back to talk to Mike (Mojarro, Executive Director of Living Hope) about anything we could do to create jobs.”
Meanwhile, Mojarro had been dabbling in building furniture after purchasing a table from a friend in Loomis who had resurrected it out of reclaimed wood. “They are amazing-looking pieces,” he says. “I own a reimagined salvage and restoration company and was interested.”
What started as Mojarro’s hobby has turned into the latest in a series of social entrepreneurial projects he and Living Hope Program Director Jordan Storment have instituted to create jobs for clients.
“It requires simple, primitive wood and basic tools,” Mojarro says. “When we examined it in terms of Living Hope, I saw that it was totally replicable.” Hunter and Payne were the perfect fit and first in line when The Wood (shop) program piloted in 2013.
“I worked in metal fabrication, so I took that experience and turned it to (working with) wood,” says Hunter. “If you know math and can use a tape measure, you can do just about anything.”
Payne had experience working with furniture. “I showed Mike a piece I had refinished at my house and told him, ‘This is what I’m able to do,’” she says. “He brought me in on some small refinishing projects that grew into him bringing me in to refinish our commissioned projects.”
As word spread, Mojarro began fielding texts and emails about old barns, outbuildings and other structures potentially suitable as product. The Wood uses only good-quality, true-dimension, rough-cut or handhewn lumber to reveal its character and maintain a primitive look, akin to the hand-notched wood used by the Amish, Mojarro says.
“When people buy our furniture, we give them the history of the wood,” he adds. “Sometimes it is 80 to 100 years old. It tells a story and 95 percent of our purchasers appreciate it.” The builders use an etching stamp to imprint the date into the underside of each piece of furniture. “Right now we’re working on several projects for The Stirring church, tables for the café and conference room,” says Payne. “We also did the cash stand, bar and all the tables for Cinders Pizza downtown. It’s a great opportunity for our work to be seen.”
Mojarro meets with clients to review design and inventory before bringing in Hunter and Payne to make necessary adjustments for a sound infrastructure.
Designs range from modern to Scandinavian to Old World, and depending on customer desire and use, wood is either sanded smooth for a kid-friendly surface or lightly sanded to preserve the old saw marks. As a final step, the team cures the wood with a clear or dark buff wax to waterproof it, making cleanup of spills and repairs to injured wood easier.
Hunter and Payne started as independent contractors but are now employees of Living Hope, averaging 10 to 15 hours per week. They hope to build that into full –time, and Mojarro emphasizes that all monies raised go back into the program to support payroll, taxes and the purchase of product.
Building furniture has been part of the process of building new lives. “I’m more self-sufficient than I was,” says Payne. “I’m still using the coop but the wage I earn helps me with extras for the kids. Living Hope has been way more than a job; it’s family to me.”
“I have a place to live now; I’m not sleeping in a car,” adds Hunter. “Our creativity and willingness to work are here but sometimes we have limited resources. That is the only thing holding us back.”
Find The Wood at Enjoy The Store, Redding and Red Bluff