Chuck Anania remembers switching on his television a few years ago and being captivated by a documentary about a growing shoe company in Los Angeles.
The company, known simply as Tom's Shoes, had made a name for itself as a manufacturer and retailer that operated on a one-for-one business model: For each pair of shoes it sold, it would give one pair away to someone in need.
Anania was inspired.
And determined to bring it to life in his own industry: roofing.
"I made some phone calls, and everybody told me I was nuts, like they told him," Anania said.
"Most people thought that because of the price of what we do, roof for roof is just unattainable," he said. "But our promise is, with every new roof that is purchased, we give free roofing — whatever they need — to a family in need."
For the past three years, Anania has done exactly that with Roof4Roof, a division of his Montclair-based roofing company Certified Roofing. He has completely reformulated his business model so that every roofing job he gets paid to do finances free roofing services for someone in need.
So far, he said, the company has worked on the roofs of close to 300 homes — for free.
Those homes are spread throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as in faraway places, such as Colombia and Guatemala.
And on Dec. 1, Roof4Roof is hosting a fundraiser to help finance an upcoming trip to the Philippines so the company can help the region shattered by the monstrous Typhoon Haiyan. The goal is to raise $50,000 to rebuild roofs for 50 to 100 families.
"Roofing is something that we know gives a long-lasting benefit," Anania said. "It all starts with a safe, dry place you call home."
Anania, 40, believes wholeheartedly in the work he is doing. He has to, he said, to justify the cost that comes along with adopting the one-for-one model.
On average, the roofing repairs that he gives away for free can cost him anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on how much work needs to be done. Some people ask if he then marks up the price for his paying clients to compensate for that cost. Anania assures them the answer is no.
"We do most of our business through word of mouth, so we have a very low advertising budget, and we are able to get some pretty good deals with our suppliers because of the kind of work we're doing," he said.
But even with those deals, the roof-for-a-roof concept ultimately means there is less profit at the end of the day.
"So you have to believe in your mission. You have to believe in the cause that you're working toward," he said. "Whether or not enough people think it's a great idea, I still get satisfaction every day waking up knowing that we're making a difference. Just in three years, if I add up all the people in different households that we've helped, it's over 1,000 people."
One of those people is Debbi Ferry, whose three-bedroom home in Mahwah got a new roof, free of charge, from Anania and his crew the week before Thanksgiving.
Ferry had received quotes from several companies who told her it would cost between $5,200 and $12,000 to repair her roof, which she covered with tarps last winter in case of any leaks.
"I called it my potato chip roof," she said with a laugh. "And every time a wind came, I would find pieces everywhere."
A friend she knew from work told her about Roof4Roof, so she called Anania. She had to fill out an application and allow the company to take measurements at her home. She also met with Anania in person — a prerequisite for anyone being considered for free roof work — and her story struck a chord with him.
She works part-time at Sears while she hunts for something better, and full-time. But the job search has been tough, and the money she gets from her part-time work isn't nearly enough.
On top of that, her roof was in terrible condition, Anania said, and wasn't going to make it through the winter.
Plus, he just plain liked her.
"She's the kind of person that's giving back to others," he said. "She's just a quality person."
True to form, she's trying, in whatever small way she can, to pay her good fortune forward. She received a little money from a family friend when she first started collecting quotes for her roof repairs, and she will donate the entire sum to Anania in the hopes that he can help the next person in need get a similarly vital gift.
"It's hard to put into words how wonderful this is that I'm going to feel secure that my house is going to be OK," Ferry said, tears welling up in her eyes. "My potato chip roof is gone."
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