Sunday, December 19, 2010

Church Without Walls

Last week, our church closed its doors.

Oh, don't worry. It's not another blighted building, left to disintegrate because of the exodus of the faithful, or anything like that.

We do this every year.

One of the December Sundays, instead of coming to church, and sitting in the nice warm padded seats, and throwing back a few Starbucks while the music plays, we put on our work boots, and head out to get busy.

Last year, our family was part of a group that went to an Alzheimer's ward at a local Retirement Home, and we sang Christmas Carols for a bunch of people who started off looking like vacant shells of their former selves, and who ended up, for the most part, vibrant old people singing the simple old carols with gusto.

I guess it is true that the longest-held memories are the last ones to go, because pretty much all of the Alzheimer's patients were singing along by the end of the caroling session.

Or maybe it was that the sugar rush from all the Christmas cookies had finally kicked in...

Anyways, this year, we signed up to help CityTeam with a project in San Jose. A family who had moved to the Bay Area in the summer had fallen on hard times, were unable to keep up with the maintenance on their house, and were in danger of losing it, if the place got any more run-down.

There were probably 5 or 6 families who descended on the house at 930 Sunday morning, just as the home's occupants were piling into a car to 'get out of our way' and take the kids out for a fun day of going to the movies and a nice lunch out (courtesy of some anonymous donor).

The first order of business for the 'outside team' was getting rid of the accumulation of leaves in the yard and on the house.

Nate spent a lot of time holding leaf bags...

While Skip spent a lot of time raking the roof...

And Kelly and I went into the house, and took over the room of the eldest daughter...

Our first order of business was to organize the vast sea of clutter, trash, and salvageable toys and clothing.

It was quite the eye-opener for Kelly. This girl had a dresser with no clothing in it, and no closet. She had a plastic-wrapped mattress on the floor, with a case-less pillow (that would have to be tossed out) and a comforter that looked like it was being used like a sleeping bag. There were a handful of naked and limb-less Barbie dolls in various corners, and the cardboard remnants from some long-lost games and toys. Three black trash bags in the middle of the room yielded the girl's school work, dirty laundry, and garbage. There was broken glass in the carpet, left over from when a lamp had broken (we eventually found the lamp behind the empty dresser).

We started by using the broken lids of two small rubbermaid containers as scrapers/shovels, to take the majority of the debris and trash off the floor. Then I brought in my vacuum cleaner (How I love thee, Purple Dyson), and Kelly went to work sucking up all the stuff our scrapers missed. I went through the small mountain of debris, and pulled out the non-broken toys, school books, and laundry, and made places for those things. While Kelly was vacuuming, I went into the garage, and was assaulted by an absolute mountain of laundry. I will never, NEVER EVER complain about my laundry backlog, ever again. I didn't take a photo, I was so stunned by the magnitude. That explained why the kids didn't have any clothes in their dressers, anyways.

So I got to work running laundry through the washer and dryer, and then went back to where Kelly was working. She had finished vacuuming, and one of the men had come in and was working on turning a corner of the room (in the above photo, it's where I'd just organized everything onto that park bench) into a shelf-and-pole closet-type area.

And while they were doing that, I taught Kelly how to use the Rug Doctor, and she went to work with gusto.

We soon realized that the washer and dryer in the garage were no match for the volume of laundry that was waiting, so I volunteered to make a trip to the local laundromat. We loaded up all the bedding, as it was unlikely that the blankets and such would even fit in a home washer, and I stuffed the back of my van full of laundry.

Let's take a quick check outside:

Good work, Natey. Now that you know how to use a broom, you can use one at our house, too!

Um, Skip... maybe you should've made more than one trip to the van with the laundromat-laundry...

Hey! Who gave that kid power tools?

Ken, very kindly, put his phone to work finding me the closest laundromat...

And I grabbed my friend who is a Spanish immersion teacher (just in case we had to ask for directions, and couldn't find any English speakers in the area), and we headed off with Ken's phone giving us directions out of the neighbourhood.

Hooray for Elena. She was a Laundromat Goddess. She commandeered a whole bank of over-sized washers, and we loaded them up and went to town.

I think I ended up dropping nearly $40 in quarters just on the washers. I shudder to think how long it would have taken to get all that laundry done one load at a time in the home's machine. I probably would still be there.

As an added bonus, while the wash was going, she took me to a local Mercado, and introduced me to authentic street tacos.

OH man, people, I am in love!

It was almost like a little mini-vacation. I was the crazy gringa taking photos of 'ordinary stuff' while everyone around me pointed. Oh well. Who's gonna care, really?

The laundry took about an hour and a half, during which time we probably did the equivalent of 15 loads of laundry. That's efficiency, for ya. And when we got back to the house, Ken was just returning with lunch for everyone else.

Hey! Who gave that child power tools?

After Skip finished on the roof, and had consumed his Coca Cola lunch (because that's the only thing he'll eat from fast food restaurants), he was put to work wrapping presents for the family.

Now he will have no excuse when I ask him to wrap the presents for his siblings... hah!

Maybe I should have sent him outside to work with his sister. She did all the windows...

OK, I was going through my photos, and I found a shot looking into the garage, that shows some of the laundry that was left over AFTER I'd already taken the 15 loads to the laundromat:

Needless to say, I did NOT conquer Mount Washmore that day.

We worked from 930am until 430pm, when there was a sudden flurry of activity as the word had come down that the family was returning, and we had to clear out. I was nearly finished with the Rug Doctor in the living room and hallway. And can I just say how VERY satisfying it is to run a rug doctor on formerly-white carpets? You can see the line where you've been, and the line where you still have to work. I could have spent my whole day making Rug Doctor lines in the carpets... oh wait. I nearly did, come to think of it.

Anyways, we had to pack up all our cleaning supplies, and dump everything in our cars, and then quickly come back for one last photo...

I should've asked this team if they were available to come and descend on my house to whip it into shape for the holidays...

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