Reclaimed wood from Detroit's blighted houses is ending up doing its patriotic duty in the form of hope chests for veterans.
The creation of the Hometown Heroes Life Chest involves three companies: Detroit-basedRickman Enterprise Group LLC, which removes reusable wood before demolishing a house; Livonia-based End Grain Woodworking Co., which makes the chests using the reclaimed wood; and Troy-based Life Chest, which markets and sells the suitcase-sized wood boxes.
"Our goal is to eventually hire vets to build these," said Donna Yost, owner of Life Chest.
Rod Rickman, chairman and CEO of Rickman Enterprise, is a veteran, and 20 to 25 of his 98 employees are vets. "We try to hire vets to harvest the wood," he said.
Hardwood floors, studs, beams and joists are removed to be used for the hope chests and other items.
End Grain, co-owned by Chris Behm, makes the chests. The company also makes tap handles forAtwater Brewery, tables, chess boards, coasters and candleholders from reclaimed wood.
"The more people use the wood, the more wood that is kept out of landfills," Behm said.
Behm always labels his company's items with the address of the house where the wood came from.
Construction of the Hometown Heroes chests for public purchase has not officially started, but Behm said his goal, depending on demand, is to make 100 a month.
Yost and Behm had the idea to make the chests for veterans. Rickman's part in the collaborative project was to remove the old-growth wood from the houses they were demolishing and reuse it.
The reclaimed wood chests will sell for roughly $349. They feature a removable tray with grooves for coins and poker chips. In front of the tray are four holes to store shot glasses, and there's room for a bottle of spirits. The chests' side handles are weathered-looking bottle openers. The chests also can be used to store memorabilia from a soldier's time in combat, Yost said.
She said she is talking to southwest Detroit nonprofit Southwest Solutions about training veterans to become woodworkers so they can build the chests.
Life Chest makes 34 types of hope chests that have motifs ranging from Asian to babies to traditional. They range from $349 to $1,499, which is the price of the Freedom Life Chest, a large hope chest geared to veterans.
"We have given these to military families with a loved one who is injured or deceased," said Yost, who is married to Art Van Furniture CEO Kim Yost.
Except for the Hometown Heroes chests, the Life Chests are made in China. The company's 2014 and 2015 combined sales were $500,000. This year, it hopes to hit $1 million if it lands a contract with SCI Dignity Memorial Funeral Homes. Yost has learned that the chests can be incorporated into funeral proceedings as a place for mourners to drop off mementos for the deceased's family.
The chests are for sale in furniture stores and on Overstock.com and Wayfair.com.
"We are trying to raise funds to pay for Freedom Life Chests to give them to all the athletes participating in the Invictus Games (in Orlando, Fla., in May)," she added. The games are a worldwide athletic competition for injured servicemen and women.