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QVC workers swing the hammer for Habitat

Volunteers at the West Chester studio are building housing frames for the nonprofit project.

Last week, a corner of Studio Park, QVC's sprawling corporate headquarters in West Chester, was converted from broadcast set to home-frame factory.

About 350 QVC employees - many of them with little or no experience swinging a hammer - participated in Habitat for Humanity of Chester County's Blitz Build, banging out the framework for houses in West Chester.

The expo space is a long, open room reminiscent of a warehouse, or an airport hangar. Banks of lights, for when the building is used for broadcast, line the ceiling. On Tuesday the room was filled with stacks and stacks of wood, however, as QVC employees, in shifts of about 10 every hour, came in and hammered away.

"QVC is our biggest supporter, so we'll basically do anything to accommodate them," said Abby Schaefer, spokesperson for Habitat of Chester County.

Blitz Builds - during which Habitat gathers a bunch of volunteers at a central location to build stacks of walls and frames for houses - are a rarity. The last one in Chester County was back in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. There was no natural disaster behind this latest effort, however; just the need to build frameworks that would be trucked to Habitat-owned land in West Chester. There, final construction will turn them into houses.

Three twin houses are under construction on a two-acre property on East Barnard Street in West Chester, with the framing for two more to come from the Blitz Build.

All told, Habitat, which is also working on two houses in Coatesville, plans to put 14 houses on Barnard Street over the next three years. The third house on that tract, when completed, will be the 100th built in Chester County by Habitat since its 1989 inception.

Aside from special operations like Blitz Build, most Habitat construction is done by regular volunteers and by the families who will move into the homes when completed.

Tuesday was the first day of work at QVC, with Habitat supervisors overseeing the efforts of the rookie construction workers. QVC employees arrived for one- or two-hour shifts throughout the day.

Construction supervisor John McKean laughed when asked whether any of the QVC employees had experience building houses.

"No, no they don't," he said, explaining that the hardest part was getting them comfortably swinging a hammer. In the background, a dozen QVC volunteers were buzzing around the work site, some hammering nails into walls, some using circular saws to cut wood.

Steve VanValin, 47, of Downingtown, who works in human resources development, was one of the volunteers at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. He had a teal T-shirt (all the QVC volunteers were wearing them) over his long-sleeve oxford, and sweat poured down his forehead as he took a break.

Asked how he was doing with the hammer, VanValin said "pretty good," but he did mention that he had dirtied his pants. His black slacks were speckled with sawdust. Asked how he was going to finish his work day coated in sweat and sawdust, VanValin smiled and said, "I'll probably go back, write some e-mails, and stay away from people."