By Ron Hayes
When Joe Santarella left New York for South Florida in 1982, he brought the New York accent along. It’s still here.
“My father was a laborer, and my mother was in retail,” he says. “I was the first or second in my family to attend college. I’m basically an Italian guy from Staten Island who was fortunate enough to buy a house in Gulf Stream.”
Now he helps the less fortunate throughout South County build and buy houses they might never own without people like him.
For the past decade, since retiring as head of the trust department at Chase Manhattan Private Bank in Palm Beach, Santarella, 72, has volunteered at Habitat For Humanity of South Palm Beach County.
First, he served as a “support partner,” using his financial expertise to mentor a family for a year after Habitat built them a house.
From 2004 to 2007, he served as president of the board of directors, and then as a member.
“Joe’s just a wonderful fella,” says Mike Campbell, the affiliate’s executive director. “As president, he was able to place the vision of where Habitat was going to go. He’s a person who’s motivated by helping others. He likes to see those in need served.”
Shortly after joining the board, Santarella helped found the organization’s ReStore at 272 S. Dixie Highway in Boca Raton, where you’ll find him working every Monday and Friday.
A feature of all Habitat for Humanity affiliates, the ReStore is a thrift shop with a twist.
Imagine Home Depot with donated merchandise. Imagine a discount store that doesn’t sell clothes.
“We get new and gently used merchandise donated by stores,” he explains. “We get last year’s floor models, or discounted or discontinued merchandise.”
Light fixtures and furniture, cabinets and construction products. Televisions, too, as long as they’re no more than 5 years old.
“We have things from 50 cents to a $4,000 table,” Santarella says, and the old New York enthusiasm slips into his voice. “It was brand new, retailed for $15,000. All inlaid wood. Absolutely beauty-full.”
Since opening in 2005, the store has raised about $800,000, all of which is used to cover the affiliate’s administrative costs, meaning 93 cents of every dollar donated outside the ReStore goes directly into home construction.
“I don’t play golf,” he says. “I failed golf. So this is purely selfish for me. I meet some really nice people at the store. After I retired, I wanted to do something where I could see the results of what I was doing. To me, Habitat for Humanity has the ability to help some people change the course of their lives, and their children’s lives as well.” For more information, call Habitat for Humanity at 561-362-7284, or visit www.hfhboca.org.