Evelyn DeLaughter hadn’t laid eyes on the treasures stored above her garage since she moved into her Priest River, Idaho, home in 2006.
The steep wooden steps leading up to the second-level of the garage were rotten and too dangerous for the 71-year-old to use.
DeLaughter, a widow who uses a ski pole as a walking stick, couldn’t afford the roughly $500 it would cost for materials and labor to build new steps, so she put the items — Christmas decorations, sewing materials, and memorabilia — out of her mind.
Until Saturday, when North Idaho contractor Scott Whitman showed up to build her a new set of steps for free.
Whitman, owner of NBR Home Services in Priest River, is donating his time once a month to help North Idaho homeowners finish projects they otherwise wouldn’t be able to complete because of financial or other constraints.
“They are angels,” said DeLaughter. DeLaughter watched from a lawn chair in her yard off Beardmore Avenue Saturday as Whitman and several volunteers cut lumber and hammered away.
“For someone to come and do something like this for someone you don’t even know, it’s amazing,” DeLaughter said.
Whitman said he had been watching people come together to aid the victims of the earthquake in Haiti when he came up with the idea to help local residents with unfinished projects.
“Obviously, I can’t go to Haiti,” Whitman said. “So I thought, why not help out the people who need help here at home?”
The Kootenai, Boundary and Bonner County region is a depressed area, made worse recently by the downturn in the economy, Whitman said. For laborers and loggers, it’s been especially difficult, he said.
“I know their pain,” he said.
With the help of friend Jamie Eberle, who owns Northern Sky Marketing, the pair solicited nominations for people in need in a Priest River newspaper. DeLaughter’s is their first project.
“Some of the responses have been really moving,” Eberle said. Mostly, it’s homeowners who already have materials for jobs like replacing flooring or remodeling bathrooms, but don’t have the money to pay someone to do the job. Many of the nominees are elderly, and most projects are small.
“I’m only going to tackle what I can finish in a day,” Whitman said.
The plan is to do a project for homeowners in one of the three North Idaho counties once a month.
On Saturday, Whitman received donations for DeLaughter’s project, including cash from Eberle’s marketing business, and materials from Stimson Lumber, Home Depot and Sandpoint Building Supply. Kelly’s Vay Mart & Hoodoo Creek Cafe provided pizzas for lunch.
“This is not exactly a wealthy community,” said Jerry Gordon, and longtime friend of Whitman’s who volunteered to help. “There are a lot of people who need a project taken care of that the just can’t afford to do themselves.”
DeLaughter said after the death of her husband, Jim, in 2004, she could no longer afford the couple’s four-bedroom home in Iowa.
Her son found the mobile home for her in Priest River, and she headed west with a grandson. Her grandson died in a motorcycle accident near Silverwood in 2008, she said.
Last week another grandson, Michael Jones, 23, was visiting from Iowa when DeLaughter got the news about her nomination for Whitman’s services.
“Just the other day she asked me how much it would cost for them stairs,” Jones said. “The she told me never mind, somebody’s coming to do it.”
When she is finally able to get up to her storage area and take the lock off, it “will be like finding treasures,” DeLaughter said.
“There’s lost of memories up there,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to go through things like that. There might be some tears.”