ReBuild Together: Locals give late Christmas gift to homeowners still recovering from flood

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Kids in the Columbia area tore through Christmas bows and wrapping paper last week with joyful anticipation, but some families minutes away are still tearing out wet flooring and sheet rock.

Homes are on the mend after the historic October floods that devastated entire neighborhoods, and dozens of local volunteers pitched in this week with a late Christmas gift of free labor. Project ReBuild began Monday led by Home Works of America and St. Bernard Project in partnership with the United Way of the Midlands, Michael J. Mungo Foundation, BlueCross and BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation, and Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina.

Volunteers are working long hours through Wednesday on about 10 homes in the Midlands. Team leaders from St. Bernard Project, a rebuilding nonprofit established after Hurricane Katrina, have been on the ground since late October and put to work volunteers recruited by Home Works.

“We are putting the walls back up,” said Rita Pratte, St. Bernard Project team leader. “We are putting (their) stability back.”

At a home of Jennifer Gneiser in the Pine Glen neighborhood, one of the hardest hit areas, local students were spending part of their Christmas break surrounded by drywall and tools of all sizes. Home Works site leader Kelly Payne, also the Beta Club advisor at Dutch Fork High, says she thinks it’s important for the high schoolers to witness the lingering effects of the flooding themselves.

“They can see the magnitude at which the community was affected … (and) this is a direct way to give back,” she said.

Students picked up new skills while giving back. (photo by Rachel Ham)

Students picked up new skills while giving back. (photo by Rachel Ham)

Payne said she’s been impressed with the way the students jumped right in though most of the rebuilding tasks they’ve been given are far outside of their comfort zone.

“I never thought I could do this,” agreed Alex Chalgren, Dutch Fork High School Beta Club vice president.

His grandfather’s home in Forest Acres was partially flooded, but Chalgren was still surprised to see driveway after driveway in the Pine Glen neighborhood still occupied by dumpsters, piles of wet material and mobile storage units. He said his love for people led him to volunteer for ReBuild Together.

“It’s what I’ve been put on this earth to do … We want to give them (back) a normal life,”

The normal for David Stewart during the past two months has been living in a mold-infested house, the home he’s called his own for more than 40 years. FEMA connected him with St. Bernard Project, and volunteers arrived Monday to help Stewart with demolition and large-scale mold remediation.

Armed with tools and a respirator, too, Stewart said the helping hands from St. Bernard Project were a sight for sore eyes.

“I’m getting a whole new house. I don’t know to act,” he said.

The constant rains of October combined with a leaky roof left Stewart with soaked sheetrock and a growing mold problem.

“Water saturated the sheetrock so much that it came down,” he said. “I was here at the time.”

Stewart did receive some financial assistance from FEMA and has had his roof replaced, but he didn’t have homeowner’s insurance. After this week’s ReBuild Together concludes, St. Bernard Project volunteers will remain to help Stewart and a few other local homeowners finish their rebuilds.

“This is a house in need,” volunteer Jonathan Falk said.

The United Way of the Midlands and the Michael J. Mungo Foundation have invested $100,000 for ReBuild Together and paved the way for the St. Bernard teams to spend weeks in the community. The United Way’s funding is made possible by individuals and corporations that contributed to the organization’s Flood Relief

“Many of those affected by the historic flood event have lost everything tangible, and it’s a reminder that things beyond our control can happen and even our homes can be taken away.  As businessmen and members of this community, it’s our responsibility to help people get back on their feet – to rebuild their lives and rebuild their homes,” said Stewart Mungo, chairman of Mungo Homes.

Visit St. Bernard or Home Works online to find out about upcoming volunteer

Categories: Hometown, Lexington County, Richland County

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