Thanks to the efforts of St. Clair Building Inspector Jeremy Crowe, Habitat for Humanity workers, Franklin County Baptist Association volunteers and many, many others, a local woman will have a merry Christmas.
Margie Dietrich, who has lived in the same trailer inside the Crescent Village Mobile Home Park in St. Clair for 23 years, was told earlier this month that her home was being condemned because it was unsuitable for living.
Crowe had to give the woman the bad news after a complaint was registered that forced him to inspect the home and comply with city ordinances.
“I found a lot of structural defects,” he said. “The roof was caving in and was leaking, there were holes in the floor, there was no hot water or stove. ... There was no way she should be living there. According to our city ordinances, I had no choice but to condemn the property.”
That meant Dietrich no longer could occupy the trailer, which created a big problem.
“I asked her if she had any place to go, and she said ‘no,’ ” Crowe said.
“I was worried about where I would live,” said Dietrich, noting the cost to fix the roof alone was estimated at $1,500.
Dietrich said she didn’t realize her trailer was in that bad of shape, but acknowledged that there were a lot of repairs needed.
Knowing Dietrich’s situation, Crowe decided to take matters into his own hands. After area shelters and centers said there was no room for her, the inspector wondered if there was another trailer available.
“I made some calls,” he said. “And I was fortunate to find one.”
Hannah’s Mobile Home Sales in Union had a mobile home it was willing to donate. That got all the wheels turning.
“Then I contacted Habitat for Humanity,” Crowe said. “They jumped on board.”
The 1982 Freeman two-bedroom home was hauled to St. Clair and placed in a vacant lot inside Crescent Village. And in an unprecedented move that included a lot of collaboration, Crowe’s office and Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County refurbished the trailer for the St. Clair resident.
The last of the improvements were made this past weekend, and Dietrich moved into her new home earlier this week.
“I think this was the most incredible opportunity to show the true meaning of Christmas,” said Karen Dawson, Franklin County Habitat for Humanity president. “I think all of us (volunteers) feel that we are truly doing God’s work.
“I think (Crowe) is a very deeply caring person. He felt terrible that he had to condemn her trailer and to make this lady all of the sudden homeless,” Dawson said, adding that Crowe also helped work on the home through the entire rebuild.
“The thought of this lady being homeless at Christmas broke my heart,” she said. “We knew she needed help, and she needed it immediately. There’s no way you could look in her face and not do it.”
Crowe said that if Habitat would not have come through, Dietrich could, indeed, have ended up homeless for the holidays.
“It’s amazing how all of this came together,” he said. “Everyone who helped was a life-saver. The Lord provided a way, that’s for sure.”
Crowe said he never enjoys condemning a home, especially when it means individuals have to find another place to live or in extreme cases like this one don’t have another place to go.
“It was even worse because Christmas was coming,” he said. “I’m just so thankful we were able to do this. Everyone who helped was excellent.”
And, Crowe himself donated several hours of his spare time to help other volunteers get Dietrich’s new home ready for her. At times, there were 18-20 volunteers working on the home at the same time.
Before it officially could jump on board, the Habitat board of directors voted to take on the project despite having to use funds that would have been used for another home.
“We want to be good stewards with the money,” said Habitat Secretary Sharon Seeley, noting that Dietrich will pay what she can when she can.
“We provide a hand up, not a handout,” Dawson said.
The ladies hope other donations will offset their cost. Dietrich is on a limited income and living off of Social Security, Crowe said.
Typically, Habitat for Humanity builds from the ground up. Dawson had to get permission from Habitat International to complete the project through the local group.
“Those in need of a home apply and a committee evaluates each applicant,” she said. “Once a family is chosen, it helps in any way possible, including through ‘sweat equity.’ ”
Each family is required to work 300 sweat equity hours. Because of her age, Dietrich isn’t capable of doing the manual labor. Dawson and Seeley are donating their personal sweat equity hours in her name.
“Habitat is a Christian-based organization,” Dawson said. “Part of our mission is to try to help provide decent housing to people in need.”
Because the home was condemned and it took some time to get word that the project was a go, there was only about two weeks before Dietrich was scheduled to move out of her other home.
With very short notice, Habitat and other volunteers gave the home a makeover and installed flooring, insulation, skirting and tied down the trailer. Windows also were repaired. Others helped weatherize, clean, paint and move items to the new home. They hung shower curtains and light fixtures.
The donated trailer didn’t have a deck or steps so volunteers used a ladder to get inside until stairs were built.
“This is really unique. We’ve never done something like this before,” Dawson said.
Dawson and Seeley agreed that there is a great deal of people in need in Franklin County.
“There is a lot of poverty and a lot of need in the county, and it’s so easy to pretend it doesn’t exist,” Dawson said. “Yet, every time you turn around at a food pantry or at Harvest Table ... you realize that it’s among us all the time, we just don’t always see it.”
Dawson encourages others to help those in need this Christmas season.
“I hope that this Christmas that everyone will see clearly and see that this is the Christmas to make a difference,” she said. “I know times are hard and we’re busy and running around. Take a moment and take a breath and you can make a big difference to someone else.”
Other groups who donated either time or materials were Oliver Technologies, Lowe’s of Sullivan, Hall Brothers Lumber Co., Rudd Home Systems, Woody’s Heating and Cooling and the St. Clair Fire Protection District.
Dietrich sang the praises of Habitat for Humanity, for Crowe and for all the volunteers who helped give her a new home.
“I’m very thankful. Things look a lot better than they did,” she said. “They did a lot of work on the trailer until it looked like new and they did a wonderful job. I’m very grateful.”
Dietrich wished a Merry Christmas and happy new year to everyone who helped.
How to Help
Volunteers and donations are needed for future builds. Dawson said that, unfortunately, there is no place to store donated items such as appliances or home goods.
For more information, individuals may call Karen Dawson, 636-399-1426, or the Habitat office, 636-583-1020.