Marlane Straka, 74, of St. Paul sat in the house built for her in 1972, listening to Eric Clapton and talking about the good old days.
Widowed for 21 years, on a fixed income and using a cane to get around, Straka admitted she had given up on getting her leaky taps fixed.
“Handle comes off, water drips. I just stopped using the outside faucet. I’m not a plumber,” she said.
Those leaks were fixed on Saturday, thanks to a program called Water’s Off, which combines the skills and equipment of volunteer plumbers, contractors and community action leaders to provide free plumbing repairs and inspections to people like Strata.
The program, which began in 1994, has since provided more than 11,000 hours of free labor to more than 3,500 households across the state worth more than $1.5 million.
This year, the event focused on the Twin Cities and Rochester, with 200 volunteer plumbers working in 80 residences, including 25 in St. Paul.
Many of the volunteers were apprentices between the ages of 19 and 30. Tom McCarthy of St. Paul’s Plumbers and Gas Fitters Local 34 said these youngsters are not slackers.
“To see these young men and women donating to their community…it’s pretty impressive,” he said.
When a resident is in need of financial assistance and qualifies for the Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Ramsey and Washington Counties Energy Assistance – a program that helps people pay their heating bills and electricity – their names are put on a list for other projects, such as Water’s Off, explained Kevin Adams, deputy director of energy programs for CAP.
That’s how Straka got a letter in the mail asking if she needed help with plumbing issues as well.
She responded and was approved for repairs, a job that would have cost her several hundred dollars.
Adams said many of those letters were sent, but only the first 25 in St. Paul who responded had their projects approved.
“We would do more, we just need more volunteers,” he said.
Besides plumbers, the project also needs materials. This is where entrepreneurs come in. On average, contractors, many of which are family businesses, donate more than $60,000 in materials.
“How often do you see unions and management working together like this? McCarthy joked.
Saturday’s volunteers in the Twin Cities were union plumbers from Minneapolis Plumbers Local 15 and St. Paul Plumbers Local 34, the Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association and Metro Plumbing Heating and Cooling Contractors.
Those in need of Water’s Off services should contact CAP at 651-645-6445 or online at caprw.org.