FALMOUTH – The morning dawned under dense foggy skies and at about 7:45 the first volunteer arrived for The Big Fix in Falmouth, a one-day community service project organized by Housing Assistance Corporation.
The mission of the event is to help income-eligible senior citizens, veterans and disabled people with small home and yard projects.
Planning for the event began months earlier. Housing Assistance Corporation put out the word for recipients in the spring through the Falmouth Senior Center, Falmouth Disabilities Commission, Falmouth Human Services, Falmouth Veterans Services and other local service agencies. More than 60 people applied and after home visits, 18 homeowners were chosen.
Then the call went out for volunteers.
More than 400 volunteers signed up to help out on September 16, 2017, the day of The Big Fix in Falmouth. Volunteers included skilled laborers like Falmouth Selectman Doug Brown, a local contractor, and people like Carol Chittenden, former owner of Eight Cousins Books, who is retired and loves to volunteer. Dozens of teams from banks and other businesses participated in the event.
One large team arrived wearing bright orange shirts–Team Depot, made up of employees of Home Depot, which was a major sponsor of the event. Another major sponsor, Heroes in Transition, based in Mashpee, also provided critical support. Grants from the Falmouth Fund of the Cape Cod Foundation, TD Foundation, and Flying Bridge, were among the large gifts that provided critical funding to allow the event to go forward.
Some attrition is expected the day of the event and, out of more than 400 who signed up, around 300 people showed up to the Lawrence School in Falmouth for the kick-off event, a free breakfast provided by Whole Foods and Beanstock Coffee. After brief remarks from the event’s organizers, the hundreds of volunteers set off in teams for the homes where they would work for the morning.
Homeowners were deeply touched by the helping volunteers. “I feel like I won the Publishers Clearinghouse,” said one of them, an elderly woman who lives alone near the center of town.
Scurrying around her yard were 13 Barnstable High School students, members of the Human Rights Club. It was the group’s fourth year volunteering with The Big Fix.
As a nearby house, mason Dave Crichton repaired exterior brick steps for an elderly woman who is legally blind.
“There’s more to it than you think,” Crichton said, of masonry work. “This thing is undermined, so I’m going to put some mortar under it.”
Crichton said he was amazed at the number of volunteers at the event. “When I saw the parking lot at the Lawrence School, I said ‘Holy Cow,’” he said.
Over at another house being worked on, this one in the area of Falmouth Heights, Mario Cunha, who works in construction, was helping to install a fence. “I grew up in Falmouth, so it’s nice to give back,” he said.
At a house in East Falmouth, an Army veteran watched as a large number of Americorps volunteers and others hauled brush and construction material out to the curb. Several workers, including Falmouth Selectman Doug Brown, a licensed contractor, were taking apart a shed in the backyard.
The veteran’s two pet rabbits moved warily around their cages as the sound of saws and drills buzzed in the background. Besides the bunnies, her pets include three dogs, a weeniepit, American shephard boxer mix, and a yorkie; a “diva” cat; three turtles, and fish. As to seeing all the work done at her house, she said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
At a house not far away, teams of volunteers from the Americorps, Cape Save and Shepley Wood were helping out at the home of a Coast Guard veteran and his wife. As volunteers hauled shrubbery into a pile, the Team Leader at the house, Joan Maney, reported that all of her volunteers, many of whom were skilled laborers, were working hard.
“I feel like I’m the one doing the least work,” she said.
One of the volunteers, Judy Durham, who was with a group from the First Congregational Church in Falmouth, said she is new to Falmouth but did volunteer projects like The Big Fix when she lived in Maryland.
Volunteer John Vaughn, who was volunteering at his sixth Big Fix, refused to pick a favorite year of the event. “They’re all good,” he said.
Not too far away, at a home on Old Barnstable Road, a large team from the Enterprise Newspapers was working to clear brush, mulch and do other yard projects. Anna Paradise, 17, a senior at Sturgis Charter Public School, west campus, said she enjoyed volunteering. “To contribute to people who can’t do it themselves is really rewarding,” she said.
At a house in Teaticket, volunteers assisted a Vietnam veteran with his ham radio antenna.
Married couple Kurt and Deborah Stiffel—a pair of experienced do-it-yourselfers—were installing a kitchen floor in the home. “It’s awesome, Debra said. “I like the sense of community. Everybody coming together to help someone else.”
After several hours, volunteers returned to the Lawrence School for a lunch of burgers and hotdogs provided free by 99 Restaurants.
Selectman Doug Brown reflected on the day. “It went very well. We didn’t have any slackers,” he said. With the large number of volunteers making this the biggest Big Fix ever, Brown said he was not surprised. “It just shows again how great Falmouth is,” he said.
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