WEST ADAMS : Toilet Trade-In Aims to Conserve Water

Standing beside the warehouse ramp waiting for new goods to be loaded into her car, Gloria Guillory admitted that her initial misgivings about getting low-flush toilets proved a washout.

"I have one, and it works great," said Guillory, a Crenshaw resident who owns a home and an apartment building. "I wasn't sure at first if they were very efficient. . . . I'm getting four more. This sure beats buying them."

Other property owners have discovered the Water Conservation Project operated by FAME Renaissance, the nonprofit economic development agency run by First AME Church.

Through the Metropolitan Water District and the Department of Water and Power, the agency has set up a center and warehouse in South-Central where customers can trade in their old toilets for new low-flush models that typically save DWP customers about 40% on water bills. Any DWP customer who brings in a water bill less than two months old is eligible for the exchange.

MWD and DWP rebates $100 on each old toilet FAME turns in. FAME buys new models, which usually retail for about $150, for roughly $80 apiece.

The church's Water Conservation Project is the busiest of the six exchange centers in Southern California, purchasing toilets at the rate of about 10,000 a month since opening a Western Avenue office and warehouse 1 1/2 years ago. About 42,000 toilets have been given away thus far.

April Stokes, an account executive with the project who targets residential property owners, said the water agencies turned to FAME to help spread the word in South-Central.

"People just weren't responding to the notices that the MWD was putting out at first," she said. "We're aggressive--we send letters, flyers, make sales appointments and presentations. We're successful because we run this like a business."

In addition to saving countless gallons of water--about 1 billion thus far--in a city still in the throes of a drought, FAME Renaissance director Mark Whitlock says profits from the project help support other FAME programs, fund scholarships and provide jobs for residents. The center at 11100 Western Ave. employs about 30 clerical, computer, sales and warehouse workers.

"This job pretty much saved my bacon," said warehouse worker T'Roshia Blessingame. "I hadn't worked for a year and a half before I got this."

Roger Devlugt, 27, said working as assistant project manager at the center has helped him develop managerial skills.

"When I first came to FAME, I didn't really know what I wanted to do ultimately," said Devlugt, who ran a youth program before starting at the center. "But I knew I was tired of standing in long employment lines. . . . Here I've learned a lot, from computer operation to people skills."

At the brisk clip that toilets are moving out of the warehouse and old ones are being turned in for recycling, Whitlock says the program will probably go another three years. But, for now, customers such as Bryant Sanders are gladly taking FAME's offer of exchange.

"These things are pretty expensive," said Sanders, a Los Angeles homeowner who filled out paperwork at the center and was whisked to the warehouse in about six minutes. "It's a good deal."

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