Hearts & Hammers: Volunteers fix, repair more than 30 homes on work day

Clinton residents Don Johnston and Cindy Weeks

The garden is weeded, the grass cut, the rotten deck boards replaced, the roof is blessedly free of moss and Langley resident Laura Fitzgerald couldn’t be happier.

Juggling several jobs and struggling to take care of a loved one with health problems, the chores piled up over the past year and became a bit overwhelming. Seeing it all done is a huge sigh of relief, she said.

“I love it, I’m happy, it’s like a dream come true,” Fitzgerald said.

She was one of 32 property owners across South Whidbey who got some needed assistance Saturday during the 22nd annual Hearts & Hammers work day. More than 400 volunteers turned out for event, accomplishing an impressive array of light to heavy projects.

“Everything from repairing floors, installing cabinets, rebuilding decks and steps, gardening and clean-up, new and repaired roofs and lots and lots of trash hauling,” said Lorinda Kay, a long-time member of the Hearts & Hammer’s board.

“Volunteers also worked at the recycling center hosted at Island Asphalt, in the kitchen preparing breakfast and dinner and at Woodchucks cutting, splitting, and delivering wood.”

The Woodchucks crews delivered approximately 40 truck loads of wood to residents in need, and there is still more available for purchase (see info box).

As part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Prevention Campaign, fire alarms were provided free of charge. Twenty-six new 10-year-battery alarms were installed in 16 homes. Local Red Cross volunteers also discussed fire prevention and safety strategies and other emergency preparedness tips with residents.

The campaign is a five-year project by the Red Cross to reduce the number of home fires nationwide. This was the first installation event by the South Whidbey team, and more partnerships with Whidbey groups are planned.

The work day kicked off early with a mobilization of volunteers and organizers at South Whidbey High School. Team members shook hands, sometimes for the first time, over a light breakfast and while listening to comments from organization leaders. Chitchat didn’t last long, however, and the small army soon dispersed to homes located as far south as Possession Shore Drive in Clinton and as far north as Honeymoon Bay Road in Freeland.

Assigned to Fitzgerald’s house was Team 14, led by team captain Gail Pierce. A Hearts & Hammers veteran — she’s lost count of how many years she’s volunteered — the squad set to work replacing rotten deck boards, pulling weeds, scraping a mossy roof and taming a wild lawn.

It was light work compared to some of the larger projects tackled by other teams, but Team 14 still broke a sweat. They worked side-by-side, got to know each other and Fitzgerald, and they had fun doing it.

“Everybody has a good time and feels good about it,” Pierce said. “It’s really a rush in some ways.”

Clinton residents Don Johnston and Cindy Weeks, a husband and wife team who were volunteering for their “fifth or sixth time,” echoed those sentiments.

“We love it,” Johnston said. “It’s about community, community service.”

“Plus it’s a fun day,” Weeks said.

“Neighbors helping neighbors is just such a great motto,” she added.

Fitzgerald said she is a former Hearts & Hammers volunteer and never thought she’d one day need help. She takes pride in being self sufficient, and asking for assistance wasn’t easy. In fact, she felt apprehensive all the way up until Saturday morning.

“But when everyone showed up, it was like working with a bunch of friends,” she said.

It was a learning experience, said Fitzgerald; everyone runs into hard times and it’s OK to ask for help. That’s especially true in a community like South Whidbey, where Hearts & Hammers was born more than 20 years ago, she said.

“It takes a village, and this definitely is a good example of that,” Fitzgerald said.

Where to donate, buy firewood

The Woodchucks has surplus wood available. Firewood can be picked up for a minimum donation of $200, deliveries for min of $300. The money is used to help replenish Hearts & Hammers coffers.

For details, call Woodchuck chief Kevin Lungren at 360-341-4556 or email kevin.lungren@edwardjones.com.