December 14, 2018 11:20 PM
A determined army of military elves worked around the clock Friday to prepare an early Christmas present for a struggling veteran family, a new place to live in a Rochester house.
"We've been running on pure patriotism and Red Bull," declared Justin Cogswell, founder of the veteran's charity Operation Build Up. "It's really been push. Most people here have been awake for about 48 hours to get this done."
Operation Build Up had attracted national attention for its work to provide vehicles for veterans in need of a lift, but this latest project was its most ambitious and difficult yet.
For a veteran suffering from PTSD and his family, now homeless, the group worked to settle the family into a house. Four months of rent for the house will be paid for and it will be complete with furniture, clothes, a Christmas tree and gifts for six children.
And the entire undertaking is a surprise, which will be revealed to the family on Saturday.
"They have no idea that they are going to get a home and an SUV and everything that they need to create the kind of life that they deserve," Cogswell exclaimed. "To be able to take a family off of the streets that is currently homeless, right before Christmas, with six children, it's worth the extra effort."
Volunteers were particularly touched by the family's story.
The father, an Iraq War veteran, had a job but was stuck walking 90 minutes to work each day and than 90 minutes home each night.
Their struggle became acute when they were evicted from a rental home after a roommate, to whom they had been paying their share of the rent, failed to pay any rent.
"It definitely hits home for me. Seeing that family with six kids with no where to go," said volunteer Nicole Duoguardi. "They deserve it. He fought for this country. And just to see the sadness in her eyes. She was hurting that she couldn't provide for the family. "
The project posed special challenges for the volunteers, some veterans themselves and some beneficiaries of Operation Build Up's help in the past.
The group couldn't get access to the house until three days later than expected, necessitating the marathon of cleaning, painting, assembling furniture, stacking presents and erecting a Christmas tree in time for the planned unveiling on Saturday.
There was also one more mess left behind by the previous tenant, unpaid utility bills so far behind that RG&E had left a "disconnect" notice on the front door.
Cogswell managed to prevail on the company to give the family and its helpers a break.
"We told them all about the mission," he said, "how important is that we keep the electric on for another 48 hours. And it worked!"
Notwithstanding the grueling ordeal, the group planned to try something similar in the future, citing a supply of donated furniture and other essentials it already had, potentially for future home projects.
"I can't wait till the kids see it tomorrow," exclaimed volunteer Cindy Durning, "and get excited over it and are happy that Santa Claus is coming no matter what happened in their life."
Updated: December 14, 2018 11:20 PM
Created: December 14, 2018 11:12 PM
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