CHARITON, Iowa (AP) — Grocery giant Hy-Vee is branching out from its food-selling roots to restore houses in a small southern Iowa town in an effort to attract and retain workers.

The grocery store chain is renovating at least four homes in Chariton, the Des Moines Register reported . The company and its subsidiary Midwest Heritage Bank have given $250,000 to the Chariton Valley Regional Housing Trust Fund.

"We think this will be a big factor in attracting and retaining talented employees," said Matt Beenblossom, vice president of the distribution center. "This will help the quality of life in Chariton and help the city grow."

The company employs about 1,300 workers at a local distribution center and another 75 employees at its Chariton grocery store.

"Hy-Vee chose this community because of its ties here," Beenblossom said. Chariton was the company's headquarters for 50 years before it moved to West Des Moines in 1999.

The aging housing options in the town of 4,300 make it difficult to attract employees, city officials said.

"We absolutely need this," said Kris Patrick, director of the Chariton Area Chamber of Commerce. "Our biggest obstacle is housing."

The grocery company hopes to expand the distribution center and add another 100 workers to the operation.

"It will be hard to find workers if housing isn't available," Patrick said.

Volunteers are doing most of the labor on the first project to cut down on costs, said Mike Armstrong, chairman of the trust fund board. The group hopes to list the first project for about $60,000.

"Most of the houses in town go for between $50,000 and $80,000, and we'd like to keep this in line with the market," Armstrong said.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com