Hundreds of volunteers put the "home" in Home Depot Thursday, building brand new porches, renovating bathrooms and sprucing up lawns at 10 veterans' homes in Newark for the company's Celebration of Service.
National Guard and U.S. Army veteran Freddy Lee Brown smiled ear to ear as nearly 40 volunteers worked on his Dover Street home in the city's West Ward. Repairs to the white multi-story residence included rebuilding a dilapidated front deck, replacing plumbing and shower surrounds in a first-floor bathroom, patching up ceiling holes and, Brown's favorite addition, a new stone patio in the back.
"Some projects I've been dying to get done, trying to figure out how to pay for them," said Brown, who served in Iraq as a National Guard staff sergeant at the same time as his son, Stapleton, a sergeant in the Marines.
"This is heaven," Brown said of the much-needed repairs. "Sometimes when you're good, you are rewarded for the good things you do."
Thursday marked the launch of Home Depot Foundation's two-month Celebration of Service aimed at supporting military veterans. The foundation, which has pledged $80 million over five years toward veteran housing initiatives, will renovate 100 veterans' homes across 13 cities.
Store associates who volunteered at Newark sites Thursday were from Home Depots in Linden, Newark, Secaucus, Hackensack and Bridgewater.
"This is very near and dear to our hearts as a company," she said.
Store associates from area Home Depots in Linden, Newark, Secaucus, Hackensack and Bridgewater were paired with one of 10 sites in Newark Thursday thanks to Jersey Cares, a nonprofit that matches volunteers with opportunities.
"I just want to help, period," said Andre Billups, the millwork supervisor at the Bridgewater Home Depot on Route 202. "I think more than half the people here feel that way."
For four-year Navy airman Laurel Edwards, the repair project on his Lincoln Avenue home came as a total surprise – and a much-welcomed one. After moving in in 2009 to help care for his blind cousin, Ernie Edwards, the veteran began renovating the outdated home, ripping up flooring and redoing the bathrooms and kitchen. But in the middle of the costly repairs is when Laurel Edwards lost his job as a dump truck driver.
About a dozen Home Depot associates Thursday finished what Laurel Edwards couldn't. They put down new carpeting and painted a large room that will soon become an office and space for Ernie Edwards' piano and other musical equipment.
"That right there saved me a couple thousand dollars," said Laurel Edwards, a single father of a 16-year-old son, Jackson. "I can put that towards furniture."
Volunteers also installed garage shelving, replaced a door and weeded the yard of the North Ward home.
"I got lucky. They called me out of the blue," said Laurel Edwards.
"I am now a committed Home Depot fan forever," he added, with a laugh.