As my wife Krista can attest, I'm one of the least handy people on earth. I used to play football and can therefore occasionally lift heavy things, but that's about the extent of my usefulness at any kind of work site. Despite my lack of construction talent, I decided to go over to my church last Friday and join one of several relief teams that were going to work on homes that had been flooded in the Nashville area.
The night before I decided to get ready as much as I could. First of all, what do you wear? I imagined that there could be nails sticking out everywhere and so I should probably wear long pants for protection. I only have two pairs of jeans, and they are both dress jeans (did I mention I don't do much construction stuff?), so I settled on a pair of old cargo pants that had a few nicks in them, including a very small tear, maybe a quarter inch, near the crotch. I figured it wouldn't matter because I'd be around a bunch of guys working on a house all day, so who cares? Krista, the girls and I then went over to Lowes. I explained my lack of tools and experience to a nice older guy named Wally, who helped me get a hammer (heavier than the little wooden one we have at home), a tool belt, ear plugs, gloves, mask (like the kind in a hospital), crow bar, and even a hard hat- just in case I ended up on a team doing heavy demolition. I went to bed feeling about as prepared as I could.
I arrived at the church at the designated meeting time of 9AM, and found myself among a crowd of about 75 or 100 people. This was on a Friday, so many had taken the day off of work to help. There was even a team of people from Louisiana who had driven up to stay at our church and help. Our church had sent people down for Katrina 5 years ago, and it was very cool to see people from there who'd come up to help us as well. Its neat how the body of Christ works.
There was a female project leader who was close-by to where I was standing and said, "Does anyone have a [particular type of tool/machine I'd never heard of] that they've brought with them?" Jason, who had brought a truck full of tools and equipment, turned around said, "I do." So, the female project leader, named Cissy, came over, grabbed Jason, and said, "OK, you're coming with me." I looked over and saw that Cissy, despite having asked men to join her because she needed some muscle, only had women in her group. In fact, I think besides Jason's wife Jennifer, almost every woman who had shown up had joined Cissy's group. I've played on basketball teams with Jason for years. He's taller, thinner, and a much more skilled player than I am, and I've always been more of the person who did the 'heavy lifting' so to speak, so I figured I should try and fit into the same role here. I figured if he was doing a lot of the skilled construction stuff, I could help out with the unskilled manual labor stuff, and therefore I joined Cissy's group.
On the ride over to the work site in Jason's truck, I joked around with Jason that I'd only joined the group to be his accountability partner since he was going to be surrounded by several women all day. "It gets worse," he said. "We have to take off our wedding rings since they might rip our fingers off if they get caught on a nail or something." It was also then that I remembered I had a small hole in my pants with rather unfortunately placement. Well, I just hoped nothing would come of it.
We arrived at a giant complex of hundreds of homes, duplexes and apartments in the Bellevue section of Nashville called River Plantation. Because of the massive numbers of volunteers who had shown up- there were even several police offers out directing traffic- we had to park a couple blocks away and carry all our tools in. Jason handed out several of the shovels, smaller tools and the cooler to the rest of our group, but being the heaviest person there, it was my job to get the 40lb or 50lb tool box out of the back of the truck. I hoisted my left foot up to the back of the truck and heard a loud 'RIP!'. I quickly got up on to the truck, turned my back, and hopped off the truck with the toolbox acting as a very heavy barrier. I walked 5 or 10 feet away and called up Krista. "I've got a huge 3 or 4 inch rip in the crotch of my pants, we haven't even gotten to the job site yet, and I'm on a team completely comprised of women." "What are you going to do?!?" Krista replied. "I'll guess I'll see if I can get Jason's keys and drive to a Wal-Mart or something," I replied. I caught up to group, but made sure to stay in the back till I could talk to Jason. Luckily, he had an extra pair of shorts in the trunk, and I was able to change in a nearby garage.
River Plantation had been been hit by flooding six or eight feet high with standing water for days. We were assigned to help a woman in her 50s named Janet. To get a feel for what her house was like, go stand in your kitchen. Put your hand up to shoulder level, or somewhere between the first and second shelves in your kitchen cabinets. Slowly turn, and imagine that everything in your house under that line is completely destroyed- your kitchen appliances, TVs, couches furniture, computers, photo albums, financial records, even the walls and windows. The sheet rock walls were mushy enough to stick your hand right through. Janet was putting the best face on it she could, saying that she was excited about getting some new kitchen appliances, but you could tell it still was very difficult. The odd part was that everything upstairs was perfectly fine (for the time being, anyway- more on that later), but since the water had risen so fast and she had to evacuate, there wasn't time to move anything up there.
Our main goal that day was to save the rest of the house from mold. I learned we were going to do that by completely removing everything below the waterline, or about shoulder high, including all the appliances, cabinets (the bottom shelves and doors were soaked and therefore destroyed), shelves, even the walls and windows. It was really a race against time, because even though the water had receded, the mold was growing. If people weren't able to cut out and throw out everything that had been at the flood level and under, she'd lose the entire house. Janet had a guy with some construction skills she knew from work and a woman who was an old family friend who had thought they were going to have to the whole thing by themselves, until Cissy's team showed up.
Jason got to work unhooking stuff, using a saw when needed, cutting wires, etc. I started hauling stuff out and mainly helped in ripping cabinets, shelves and the like off of walls, and even wheeled out a 300 lb cast iron bathtub on a dolly. We started to move the oven, and water just started flooding out of it. Luckily her kitchen tile was undamaged by the water, but it sure made for a slick floor.
Even though I'm married to a tall, athletic woman who doesn't mind doing laborious type things, I was still very impressed by the women on our team. Cissy seemed right at home in this kind of arena, but most of the other women, had you only taken them at face value, seemed very out of place. In our area, we jokingly say that we're surrounded by Brentwood wives (think 'Real Housewives of Orange County')- women who have to do any physical work and only spend time going from massive homes to beauty appointments to the gym and back. Some of the women in our group looked like they were on their way to a work out rather than a work site- but that certainly wasn't the case. They got the crowbars and hammers, took out big chunks of the wall, carried all the wood and trash and debris out to massive piles in the street and common ground, all without complaining. They got fully into the muck and worked as hard as any guy out there.
If you're in the Nashville area, I'd highly encourage you to get involved. All you really need are some good work gloves. Chances are the church or group you're with with have masks and all the tools you need. The only thing I was missing was a pair of clear safety glasses. I'd forgotten my protective cycling glasses at home, and had to borrow Jason's protective sunglasses, which weren't too good inside. Since Nashville is more in the demolition phase right now, its not like you can destroy anything, since it already is. And if you live too far away to volunteer, you can also donate to Second Harvest Food Bank, churches involved in the relief effort (like ours), or to the American Red Cross.
What can you do to help?
What can you do to help?