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Turning trash into treasure

“Look at all this paint,” Gloria Walker said, gesturing towards a neatly stacked shelf of cans. “If we hadn’t taken it, it would be seeping into the ground.”

Walker belongs to Rebuilders Source, a recycling center for contractors. She, Julie Falu Garcia, Yasin York and Carlos Angel sell excess building materials – doors, carpet, chairs, tiles, lumber and paint – at steep discounts. Closing hardware stores donate materials, as do demolition crews. Walker, chuckling, calls Rebuilders Source a ‘Salvation Army Home Depot,’ but the business is no joke. It’s south Bronx eco-entrepreneur Omar Freilla’s first Green Worker enterprise.

Walker grew up in Alabama and moved to the Bronx decades ago. In 2004, she retired from the New York State Department of Corrections. A flier caught her eye. ‘Fire your boss, start a business and improve your community,’ it shout

ed.

“I always wanted to fire my boss,” Walker said. “How could I resist.”

The flier belonged to Freilla, a veteran environmental activist. In 2004, Freilla left Sustainable South Bronx to launch Green Worker Cooperatives – an incubator for non-polluting, non-profiteering enterprises. He and Walker clicked.

“I’ve been a Dumpster diver since way back,” the tough, sincere Walker, said. “So many useful things get thrown away – I’ve never been able to stomach that.”

Freilla, who grew up on Fordham Road and once cashiered at a bodega, invited Walker, Garcia, York and Angel to his Green Workers Co-op Academy – a crash course on collectivism, business management and south Bronx environmental degradation.

Together, they formulated a business plan. Just as dieters trash half-eaten sandwiches and mothers pack outgrown jackets for giveaway, construction teams abandon surplus two-by-fours and belly-up wholesalers chuck outdated vinyl. In NYC alone, 10,000-plus tons of building materials hit landfills and incinerators every day.

Walker’s paint? Past its expiration date.

“Not past its ‘good enough date,’ though.” Walker said. “At full price, you might not buy. At five bucks a gallon, you’ll buy. It’s fine to use.”

Rebuilders Source is a south Bronx novelty, sparing rather than harming the environment.

It took years for Friella to secure funding. He tapped the Kendeda and Northstar Funds, and financial giant Citco. Rebuilders Source finally opened in March; Freilla shares the enterprise’s 20,000-square foot Timpson Street office/warehouse.

Today, the space is bursting with building materials, testament to how far Rebuilders Souce has come and how far it has to go. Too few contractors and homeowners know about the bargains on Timpson Street, despite coverage from the New York Times, Men’s Vogue and PBS. That’s why Walker attends community board meetings, brochures in hand.

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