For love of Dundalk

The huge water main break that flooded Dundalk has spawned another outpouring - one of local generosity: from "Len the Plumber," who has given and installed 32 hot water heaters to replace damaged ones, to a couple who were preparing to downsize for their retirement and donated furniture and other belongings.

"I told him to bring a truck and take whatever he needed," said Barbara Vallimont, referring to a man whose basement bedroom and all of its contents were destroyed in the Sept. 19 flood. "I would have given him clothes, too, but he was much taller than my husband. All my life, my heart has been in Dundalk. I am glad my things will stay here."

Vallimont and her husband Wade, who are planning to either move to a retirement community or cross the country in an RV for a couple of years, are among the individuals, churches and businesses offering help in the wake of the disaster. "Everyone has gotten involved and helped," said Erica Swann, who lives on McShane Way. "The county, the Red Cross and several churches all helped. Home Depot gave us free cases of bottle water and helped clean up my yard."

Three days after pumping nearly five feet of water from her basement and still without electricity, Swann was in the backyard, scrubbing items she had salvaged from the home she shares with her fiance, Christopher Cerne. She spotted a Len the Plumber truck in the alley, thinking it was yet another contractor looking for work. She soon discovered otherwise.

"They stopped and offered me a hot water heater at no charge," she said. "I was extremely surprised and grateful."

When the lift on the plumber's truck broke, Swann's father and Cerne helped unload about 15 heaters into her backyard. They all went into homes of her neighbors, she said. Twirl Holmes heard about the giveaway and called the plumber. Within two hours, a technician was installing her new hot water heater.

"After no electricity for four days, it felt so good to take a hot shower and to wash dishes," said Twirl Holmes. "It felt like the first step on the road to recovery, the first real step in getting my home back in order."

Holmes has lived on McShane Way for 10 years and said that she has never felt so much a part of a caring community as she has in the last week.

Lisa Fairley, marketing director for the plumbing company - which got its start in Dundalk - said the offer still stands. "This community helped us grow as a business," she said. "This is the least we can do to help get them back in their homes."

Several employees volunteered their own time to install the 40-gallon heaters, she said.

Sonny Appolonia, owner of Baltimore Towing Co., has offered to dispose of water-damaged vehicles that cannot be salvaged, not only at no cost but he'll also give the owners the $150 that he would receive for scrap metal.

"People won't get anything from insurance on a lot of these older cars and they can't just let them sit," he said. "They will have to pay to dispose of them. These people have been traumatized enough already, I want to help."

Even the national chain stores, like WalMart and Home Depot continue to donate cleaning supplies, trash bags and bottled water.

"We have gotten more calls from people who want to help than from those who need help," said Doris Kuhar, assistant to Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski, who represents the area. "Disaster brings out the best in people and restores your faith in people."

Swann is probably facing $20,000 to repair her basement and replace the many items lost. Her insurer has denied her claim - "the only exception to all the offers to help," she said. She and Cerne are planning to stay in Dundalk and they are moving forward with plans for a May wedding.

"We know what we will be putting on our bridal gift registry," she said.

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