Plumbers & Pipefitters 562 union craftsmen ‘Rebuilding Together’ to help low-income, elderly, disabled

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LOCAL 562 BUSINESS MANAGER John O’Mara (center) talks with Booker Simmons about the massive repair blitz taking place at his home. – Labor Tribune photo

By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Correspondent

Dellwood, MO — It was barely 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, and the 60-year-old ranch home a block off Chambers Road was already swarming with workers and service trucks. Some carried out old nasty pipes and parts and others hauled in the new. Power saws squealed and sawdust was flying as others did demolition.

As for the homeowners, they were wide-eyed and astonished.

“Workers are everywhere, but that’s good,” said homeowner Booker Simmons, whose home was one of 150 to receive the benefits of the Rebuilding Together effort with Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, Glaziers Local 513 and Rebuilding Together St. Louis. Repairs, large and small —all the way down to new mailbox numbers — were done in a day, free of charge.

With the support of their union contractors, about 500 members of Local 562 and Local 513 combined for the annual one-day blitz, making much-needed repairs to the homes of low income and elderly residents.

IBEW Local 1 volunteers performed their part of the rebuilding effort on April 28.

CHANGING LIVES FOR THE BETTER

For 23 years, Local 562 Business Manager John O’Mara said skilled tradesmen have donated their time and skills to change the lives of area homeowners who wouldn’t otherwise have safe and comfortable living conditions.

PLUMBERS & PIPEFITTERS LOCAL 562 first-year Apprentice Stephen Franzen replaces an aging toilet in a Dellwood home to provide an ADA accessible unit for the disabled homeowner. – Labor Tribune photo

“We’ve seen conditions where there is no working shower,” said O’Mara. “One woman was using a hose at her kitchen sink to wash up.”

Throughout the day, O’Mara made the rounds, visiting various worksites, talking with homeowners.

“It wasn’t always this way,” Simmons told O’Mara. “I used to be able to paint and do repairs around the house, but I had a heart attack and stroke and the doctors say I can no longer do the work.”

The Simmons home was in need of serious plumbing and electrical repairs that would have been completely out of reach for them financially. Simmons said he learned about the Rebuilding Together program through friends, so he called, applied and was accepted.

Simmons wife, Darnell, said she was overwhelmed with the repairs being done but was most impressed by the volunteers.

“We appreciate the work, but it’s the kindness of these people to come to our home and help us like this that means the most,” Darnell said. “It’s the kindness of these workers.”

‘ALL SOME PEOPLE NEED IS A HELPING HAND’

The Rebuilding Together board of directors each year selects homeowner projects locally. In some cases, when work is not completed on Rebuilding day, they go back and make sure the project is finished.

Dan Frasca, an 18-year member, said he’s worked nearly all of the Rebuilding days.

“It helps the community. It really does,” Frasca said. “It helps people who don’t have the money, and it sends a message that our union cares. It’s also kind of fun.”

SECOND-YEAR APPRENTICE Zach Shield uses a power saw to cut, remove and replace a leaking cast iron soil pipe. – Labor Tribune photo

Ray Epperson, a first-year apprentice said it was his first time working the Rebuilding day.

“I’d be on my farm in Texas County, Missouri right now if I wasn’t doing this,” said Epperson, who paired with his father, Brad Epperson, a 30-year-plus member, to install a handicapped-accessible ADA toilet.

“It is a good trade and Rebuilding is a nice way to give back to the community,” Brad Epperson said. “All some people need is a helping hand sometimes.”

Local 562 Business Representative Mark Morgan organizes the event each year, starting at least six months in advance.

Members provide essential services that the homeowners couldn’t otherwise afford, he said.

“Since the Rebuilding Together program’s start, we estimate our volunteer services to be valued at about $2 million,” Morgan said. “Every year our work is valued at about $100,000 in donations.

“Thanks for giving a day of work,” Morgan told the volunteers. “I’m proud to see you guys show up each year. And thanks to the contractors for use of their equipment.”

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