two men stand in front of small building with some small wooden shelves between them
Retired ministers Ross White, left, and Don Robertson with some of their products in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of Don Robertson)

Topics: January/February 2023, UCC in Focus | Society

Recycled wood shop builds funds and community

Rev. Ross White and Rev. Don Robertson are donating almost all of the money they earn to First United in Vancouver


Two modest woodsheds, redolent with the scent of cedar, sit nestled among the trees in Rev. Ross White’s North Vancouver backyard.
These bustling workshops are where White, 70, and his friend Rev. Don Robertson, 84, launched their “You Give, We Build” carpentry initiative in November 2021. The project raises money for the First United Church Community Ministry Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a community struggling with poverty, addiction and mental illness. To date, the effort had raised $5,200.

The initiative came about when Robertson, who likes to hammer together the occasional bookshelf, bench, table or planter box, had an “aha” moment. “I gave Ross a call and said, ‘Do you think we could build stuff and give the money to First United?

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White thought it a great idea, and together the men, both retired, created a catalogue of items that they advertised at congregations throughout Greater Vancouver. The orders are custom-made from recycled wood, and customers do the pickup. The demand “exceeded
our expectations,” says White.

The initiative has inspired many people to donate sanders, plywood and even a mitre saw. Ninety-five percent of the money earned is donated to First United.

First United director of development Katie Koncan says that the organization has invested the funds where they are needed most. With an annual budget of $4.3 million, First United serves 9,000 people a year with daily lunches, emergency shelter, clothing, harm-reduction kits, free legal support, no-cost memorial services, tax services, a community help desk and a ministry program.

“The best part of what they’re doing is raising awareness about First United and building a larger community,” says Koncan. “It’s very touching to see.”


Roberta Staley is a Vancouver-based author, magazine editor and documentary filmmaker.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2023 issue.

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