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Habitat for Humanity dedicates its 250th rehabilitated home

Habitat for Humanity Buffalo helped its 250th family achieve home ownership Sunday as it dedicated a home it rehabilitated in the city’s Schiller Park area with the help of hundreds of volunteer workers, along with cash donations from Valu Home Center customers and a special contribution from Santa Claus.

Santa’s $200 gift came as a result of a request from two Clarence sisters who wrote him a letter asking for a box filled with money to help a family buy a house.

The girls, Natalie Wargo, 7, and her sister, Claire, 6, received the box, containing $100 apiece, and a letter from Santa thanking them for understanding the true meaning of Christmas.

Santa also told them they could contact Ronald Talboys, president of Habitat for Humanity Buffalo, about donating the money to help a family buy a house.

Talboys introduced the girls during Sunday afternoon’s dedication of the rehabilitated home on Sprenger Street just west of Pine Ridge Road. He said they were there to see the results of their donation.

Their parents, John Wargo, a local contractor who helps Habitat for Humanity with its housing projects, and his wife Eileen, also were there.

The new homeowner, Latonya Phelps, and her three children thanked the non-profit group, their volunteers and donors for their efforts.

Habitat started work on fixing up the yellow home with a red porch railing in mid-September. More than 300 volunteers have worked on the home since then, including 35 volunteers from the D’Youville College School of Pharmacy who helped out Saturday, according to Charles Drumsta, Habitat’s construction manager. The work is expected to be completed in a month.

While most of Habitat’s home rehabilitation projects take from eight months to a year after a home is donated to the group, the Sprenger Street job took less time because Habitat had rehabilitated the home about 10 years ago.

But that family recently moved to the Midwest for a job and to be closer to family, so Habitat worked to freshen up the home with new carpeting, linoleum, appliances and roof, along with an updated, more efficient furnace.

Habitat officials said the rehabilitation project cost about $15,000 for materials compared with an average cost of $65,000 for a first-time rehabilitation.

The Sprenger Street project was sponsored by Valu Home Center’s 2013 community fundraiser, which raised $65,000 from customers at its 17 area stores for this house and others. It marked the 21st year that Valu has held the fundraiser.

Habitat for Humanity Buffalo, which was founded 29 years ago, has provided rehabilitated and newly built homes for 1,000 people, including 600 children, in the city.

Habitat provides the new homeowners with a 30-year, no interest mortgage payable to Habitat.

The program is for low-income families that do not qualify for a conventional mortgage. The families must be living in substandard housing and in need of good housing and willing to live in the city. They must provide 500 hours of sweat equity in the rehabilitation or new building and have a steady source of income so they can pay the mortgage.

Habitat uses the mortgage payments to fund more home rehabilitation and building projects.