When dozens of volunteers descended on a red brick home in south St. Louis this month armed with paintbrushes, hammers and cleaning supplies, they left behind more than just a spruced-up home for a family in need.
They left such a large measure of love that Terry Edwards says her family of 16 will feel their energy for a long time to come.
“They didn’t feel like strangers,” she said. “They felt like one big happy family working together to improve the life of another. I’m still in awe. I felt the love and I still feel it today and that feeling is sustaining.”
Some 140 volunteers from the suburb of Kirkwood, where eight of Edwards’ children still attend school, worked over the course of two days last week in all-out effort to give the family’s home a much-needed makeover in time for the holidays.
The volunteers were part of a team organized by Tricia Gaines, who first met Edwards almost 20 years ago when she taught Edwards’ oldest child in second grade at Keysor Elementary School.
Gaines, 44, taught several of the family’s kids through the years and developed a close bond. Many times she dipped into her own pocket to help make sure the kids had warm clothes, hats and mittens in the winter or invited them to her house for swimming in the summer.
She said the family has struggled the past few years and household repairs had taken a backseat as Edwards worked to earn a college degree online. Her husband works to support the 10 children still living at home, and the family shares their living space with a relative who is a disabled veteran.
Along with her husband, Frank, and friends Gina and David Marten, Gaines organized students at St. Peters Catholic Church in Kirkwood to adopt the family at Christmas time the last two years.
“Last year it dawned on us, next year’s Christmas needs to be about the house,” Gaines said. So they planned a mini home makeover with students from the youth group and youth director Robby Francis. But after visiting the home, they realized the family’s needs were much deeper than cleaning and painting.
Gaines said she and Marten sent out a few emails to friends and family, and soon the youth group service project had mushroomed into a community-wide effort. Donations of furniture, appliances, household goods and services poured in.
“That’s just how Kirkwood is,” Gaines said. “It just spread. People told people who told people. ... It really was a miracle how smooth it all went, the stuff we got and how it all came together.”
Last Saturday and Sunday, volunteers worked in shifts to clean, caulk, paint, repair faucets, replace flooring, patch the ceiling and fix the roof. They delivered and constructed donated bunk beds and dressers, hung up mirrors and pictures and organized cabinets.
Gaines, now retired from teaching, owns a business called Clean Slate Companion, which helps clients organize their households. So she came armed with ideas to help the large family get organized – from hooks in the hallway where each member of the family can store their bath towel and toiletries, to ways to organize each child’s clothing and school supplies.
Edwards’ husband and older children, neighbors and friends got involved in the effort, pulling up damaged carpeting and working alongside the Kirkwood volunteers.
“They are just an awesome family,” Gaines said. “They are so appreciative. The mom said, ‘This is like what you see on TV – are you sure this is happening?”’
Marten said she was especially excited about the youth group’s involvement in the project.
“Out of all the service projects we could have chosen, this really offers them something where they can see the impact they are going to have,” she said.
Gaines said the group planned another work session in December to finish up and still needed some items such as a long table with two benches so the whole family could sit down to a meal together.
For her part, Edwards said she would never forget the kindness.
“Tears come to my eyes just talking about it,” she said. “God bless Tricia. She’s the real, real deal. It doesn’t take people long to realize everything she does is from the heart.”
Special Note: Tricia Gaines will be featured as the Huffington Post's Nov. 24 Greatest Person of the Day. Greatest Person of the Day showcases passionate residents from around the country who are contributing to their communities in creative ways.