WADMALAW ISLAND — Joan Brown often tossed bath towels onto her kitchen floor to soak up the rain that seeped through her leaky roof.
“I’ve used a bucket before, too,” she said outside her single-story, two-bedroom home with its rusting tin roof.
Now, the 76-year-old widow no longer has to worry about water spilling through holes in the roof of the house she has lived in for the past 12 years off Maybank Highway.
Sea Island Habitat for Humanity, through the help of a contractor and a new fundraising campaign the nonprofit recently initiated, has put a new roof on Brown’s house.
“It’s more than I could have ever asked for,” Brown said with tears welling up as a roofing crew nailed down new plywood and shingles on top of the tin on her Dunwell Road house. “I am ever so grateful.”
The journey to get the new roof started more than three years ago when her late husband, William, applied for funding through the nonprofit.
He suddenly died shortly afterward, and Brown, who works part-time as a nurse, was left to see the effort through.
With a wave of applications and an 85 percent drop in volunteer workers brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, the nonprofit’s work fell behind.
“We still have applications from 2019 that we haven’t been able to get to,” said Sheilagh Carlisle, director of development at Sea Island Habitat.
Ninety percent of the volunteers used to travel from schools and churches from outside the Charleston area to help, but those went away with the pandemic and have not returned.
“It’s now 100 percent local (volunteers),” Carlisle said.
To address the mounting need, the nonprofit launched a Roof Repair Rally during the summer to raise at least $100,000 and repair 30 leaky roofs by the end of the year.
Through mid-October the agency had raised about $80,000 and mended 21 roofs throughout its service territory of Johns, James and Wadmalaw islands as well as Hollywood and Ravenel.
“We want to exceed our goal,” Carlisle said of both fundraising and the number of houses before year’s end. “We believe that everyone deserves a safe place to call home and the opportunity for a better life.”
The agency decided to bring in contractors instead of relying solely on volunteers during the pandemic to finish jobs faster and shorten the waiting list. About five of the 30 targeted homes will be reroofed by volunteers only, Carlisle said.
Contractor Rigo Ortega, of Maria Ortega Construction Co. of North Charleston, said the price of materials prevented the small firm from contributing materials for Brown’s $13,000 new roof, but the company donated part of its labor for the three-day job.
“We want to give back when we can, especially for homes like this,” Ortega said. “The price of materials is so high now it’s hard to absorb the cost.”
The actual date of construction on the original house is unknown, but a date of 1957 is etched into the concrete steps leading into the wood-frame structure.
Ortega said the main reason the house leaks is because of the way it was originally constructed. The tin roof was placed atop staggered boards and nothing else.
“If we took the tin off, you could see straight through to the attic,” he said.
He also noted that people don’t have to move out while the work is done as long as they aren’t bothered by the noise.
Brown looked at the large pecan tree lapping over the house and reflected on the constant ping of the tree’s fruit hitting the tin roof in the fall.
“Sometimes it sounds like a boom,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to miss it.”
Because of the unfilled roofing jobs waiting at Sea Island, Carlisle said the agency is no longer accepting applications but hopes to restart the program by the spring.
About 80 applicants are on a waiting list, and 85 percent of those in need are at least 65 years old and 80 percent are women.
Carlisle said one reason so many homes are in need is because they are on heirs’ property. While the person living in the house may own the home, they often can’t get a loan without a deed to make necessary repairs.
A lack of means also plays into the mix.
“There’s no way someone can take $10,000 out of a budget for a roof if they are living in poverty,” Carlisle said.
She estimates the cost to repair roofs throughout the agency’s coverage area runs from $3,000 to more than $12,000.
For Brown, who relies on a window air-conditioning unit to stay cool and electric space heaters or her oven to keep warm, the new roof is a godsend.
“I’m just so blessed from the Lord,” she said.
Kearisha Toomer is another recipient of a new roof. The James Island resident had the work done late last year before the current campaign started, but she’s just as thankful as Brown.
“I don’t have to worry about the rain and thinking about the roof collapsing on me and my family,” Toomer said. “It’s been a peace of mind and really been a true blessing.”
She urged those who are able to help the less fortunate.
“There are people out there who really need the help, and you’re going to change someone’s life,” Toomer said. “You’re going to help someone like myself be able to maintain their home.”