Somewhere in the Midwest, a boy does his homework, his textbooks and computer spread out across a couple of Darden restaurant booths. In other cities, children practice “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on Seasons 52 pianos, and families sit down to dinner at Olive Garden tables. These are not scenes inside our restaurants.
They are scenes from people’s homes, because every time a Darden restaurant is remodeled, the company donates tables, chairs, booths, lobby furniture, light fixtures, wall art and shelf décor items to Habitat for Humanity.
These gently used items are then sold to bargain-hunting shoppers through Habitat ReStores – nonprofit, home-improvement outlets that raise money to build affordable housing. This model of recycling efficiency is reminiscent of the Thanksgiving dinners of our forefathers, when no part of the holiday bird was wasted and the carcass yielded a hearty soup.
“Nothing goes to waste,” says Robyn LaBreck, Darden’s Director of Construction, who founded and manages the program. “Another reason we like the program so much is because the money goes into the communities across the country where our restaurants are located, and it stays there, to pay for houses for those who live in those communities.”
In a nutshell, the program works like this: When a remodel is about to begin, Darden invites a Habitat ReStore manager to the pre-construction meeting in the restaurant to identify the items the store wants for resale. As materials are removed during an overnight demolition, construction teams load them onto a Habitat ReStore truck for an early-morning pickup.
Darden artifacts are popular, so Habitat ReStore provides the restaurants with cards to be kept at the front desk for guests. “Many of our guests are interested in the items from their restaurant,” Robyn says, and they will visit their local store to shop for them. A guest once bought from a Habitat ReStore all the décor from her favorite Olive Garden restaurant, which was being remodeled, and she decorated her house with the furnishings.
Since 2010, Darden has donated more than $3.5 million worth of its furnishings to Habitat ReStore shops, which keep quality items out of landfills and offer goods at a discount to the public. The Red Lobster remodels in 2010-2011 made up the bulk of the first few years’ donations, but the program expanded to include all Darden restaurants. Items are also donated when a restaurant closes or relocates.
“We are so grateful to Darden for its partnership and for helping to give items a second life while reducing waste,” said Lynda Smith, Habitat director of Corporate Partnerships.
Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 5 million people improve their housing conditions. This partnership supports our commitments to sustainability and to strengthening our communities.