Handy volunteers tooling up for another Christmas in April


AMONG MANY RITES of spring are smiling at trumpet sections of daffodils, wheezing at pollen, admiring the rise of sap in its many manifestations. But for some, spring isn't complete until they've gotten down and dirty with Christmas in April.

Christmas in April is a program that can be likened to Habitat for Humanity, except that it's a one-day "blitz" of homes that need sprucing up.

Blitzed homes tend to be owned by seniors or disabled folks on limited incomes.

This year's blitz will take place Saturday, and 24 homes in Anne Arundel County are expected to get special attention.

They will include three homes in South County, nine in the Annapolis area and the remainder in the northern part of the county.

"We could have done 30 homes if everything was in place and we had a sufficient number of house captains," said Marilyn Henderson, fund-raising chairwoman for Christmas in April in Anne Arundel County.

House captains are vital. They usually are builders, contractors or carpenters. They come to the home, measure the work that can be done in a day, draw up a materials list. Veteran house captains, such as David Kao in Annapolis, know subcontractors they can contact for specialized work.

Christmas in April sites are not teeming with construction professionals, however.

Most of the people who volunteer are amateurs to the building trades.

There's usually plenty of work to go around -- scraping, painting, planting.

Sometimes a group might get lucky and have an old shed that needs to be knocked down and removed.

For some reason, Christmas in April seems popular with the senior set. They'll show up at 8 a.m., wired on their second cups of coffee, all bug-eyed with energy, scouring the job site for some naughty doughnuts. They are especially valuable because they tend to know their way around a hammer or paint brush or gardening trowel.

A variety of work is done. The writer has seen a roof replaced, kitchens gutted and refurbished, a wheelchair ramp built, new shelving or hardware installed to bring things close to the hands of the disabled.

The process works this way: A deserving house is matched with a sponsor -- church, business, civic group or even the Harley Owners Group of Annapolis (there's an acronym in there somewhere). The sponsor comes up with $1,500 to "qualify" the house for the program -- money that is returned many times over in goods and services, including building supplies.

Mike Punte, vice president of the Anne Arundel chapter of Christmas in April, predicts that about 1,100 volunteers will work Saturday. And more are welcome; call him at 410-544-7123.

What about the weather, this being the showery month? "It has never rained in nine years on my Christmas in April," Punte said. "We say a lot of prayers before we get there."

And afterward, even some years afterward, volunteers will walk past their projects and remember the work they did that day, recalling the sweat and the camaraderie. They will note that the paint is still holding up. Not a bad job.

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