It's 'Christmas in April' for five needy homeowners Volunteers plan house repair blitz


In a one-day blitz of reroofing, floor-laying, painting and renovating, a volunteer organization will spruce up five homes owned by people who are poor, elderly or disabled.

The newly formed Carroll County chapter of "Christmas in April" is looking for volunteers and donors to participate in the daylong fixing blitz April 24, said chapter president Sam Maccherola of Eldersburg.

The national group grew out of a grass-roots effort 20 years ago in Midland, Texas. It brings together volunteers "in the American barn-raising tradition," according to the group's literature.

"We're a perfect community for that, because we're rural," said Mr. Maccherola. He said many homes in the county don't have indoor plumbing or electricity.

On the last Saturday in April, Carroll's chapter will be among 210 around the country to mobilize.

Maryland has several other chapters.

Mr. Maccherola said he hopes to have about 100 volunteers to send out in teams to the five houses the group has tentatively selected for renovation.

And next year, he hopes to have more volunteers and to work on more homes.

"For a first year, we thought five was a good number," he said. But he would like the program to expand to 10 or 20 homes a year.

So far, he has support from a few churches and the mayors of Carroll towns and cities, and some materials donated by area businesses.

But he and the other five board members are starting an all-out recruitment effort, and ask that anyone interested in volunteering or donating materials or cash to call him at 795-4746.

Mr. Maccherola said that in other communities, some businesses have sponsored a Christmas in April project by donating money for materials and recruiting volunteers from among the employees.

"That brings a feeling of unity to the employees," Mr. Maccherola said, when they work together and see the fruits of their efforts.

The projects include laying a parquet floor for a woman living with her handicapped adult daughter, putting a new roof on an elderly man's home and fixing his kitchen, and repairing fire damage to a Westminster woman's home.

In some cases, the homes and lawns are strewn with trash, which could be hazards to the people living there, Mr. Maccherola said. Volunteers will clean up the homes and even plant flowers in the yard, he said.

Mr. Maccherola, a computer consultant to federal agencies, said Christmas in April appealed to him for its instant gratification -- not just for the people who get their homes fixed, but for the volunteers who do the work.

"What I like about this organization is it gives me a chance to see a direct positive impact now," Mr. Maccherola said. "When I drive by that house, I would be able to see a definite impact and change for the rest of the year."

He heard about Christmas in April from fellow board member Chris Harvey of Eldersburg, who was familiar with the organization's chapter in Bowie when he lived and worked there.

The small board of six includes Elizabeth Passman, who recently retired as director of the Senior Information and Assistance program with the county.

Because of her many years with the county, Mrs. Passman knew of several senior citizens who needed help keeping their homes maintained so they could remain independent.

Mr. Maccherola said the group got other names from area churches.

The homes chosen must be owned by the occupants, he said. Fixing rental properties could result in the rent going up, and the group doesn't want to do that, he said.

Also, the work involved has to be feasible as a one-day project. But Mr. Maccherola said that with enough people, even large projects such as a roof and major indoor work can be done in one day.

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