Large speakers were blasting a mix of country, 80s and Top 40 hits across Yucca Park in Indio, as about 400 volunteers from all over the country came to Indio on Wednesday to build playhouses, furniture and two new homes for veteran families in the area.
Wearing orange t-shirts, they tacked tar paper onto roofs, painted window frames and filled buckets with household utensils. The event was a communal effort of The Home Depot Foundation, the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, Habitat for Humanity of Coachella Valley and One OC, a Santa Ana nonprofit.
The cubbies, benches, and buckets of household items assembled during the event will go to veterans moving into a new apartment complex in Riverside. The March Veterans Village, which will serve as a new home to 130 formerly homeless veterans, is opening its doors tomorrow.
"A lot of them are really homeless, they're pretty much moving in with nothing but the shirt on their back," said Javier Lopez, Director of Community Relations at the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition.
The apartments come fully furnished, and buckets filled with Mr. Clean magic erasers, cleaning gloves, brushes and other cleaning supplies were prepped during the event to help the new residents with their initial transition into a permanent home.
One side of the park was turned into a well-oiled assembly line, where volunteers built a total of 20 playhouses, a majority of which went to local veteran families. The Home Depot foundation recruited volunteers from a pool of merchants and manufacturers who supply their stores across the country.
Volunteer Jim Hayes painting the walls of a pink and purple playhouse. (Photo: Alena Maschke)
Jim Hayes of steel pipe and tube manufacturer Zekelman Industries came all the way from Chicago to participate in the event. "It's an opportunity for us to give back to the vets for all they've done for us," Hayes said, as he dipped his paintbrush into the bright pink paint.
The family of veteran Cesar Guerra was one of the 17 Coachella Valley families to receive a custom-made playhouse from the Indio event. Guerra decided to bring the whole family, and even took his two sons out of school early, so they could attend the gathering.
"As a service member, it's hard to accept anything. Because we didn't do it for the reward," Guerra said. But, he added, "it's important for the kids to see that other people care for veterans, for the work their dad did."
"These houses always come out so much better than I expect," said Gabriel Sneller, Program Lead for The Home Depot Foundation and the nonprofit Points of Light. "Because it turns out, Bob from accounting used to dabble in graphic design," he joked, as groups of office and factory workers dutifully painted small flowers and cartoon dog faces onto colorful wooden houses erected on the grass behind him.
As the midday sun announced the event's final minutes, Sneller expressed content with its outcome. "My view is that we knocked it out of the park today, so it should be a no-brainer that we'll be coming back to the City of Indio," Sneller said.
City officials seemed to agree. City Manager Mark Scott, who attended the event in the company of Council Member Lupe Ramos Watson, Development Services Director Les Johnson and other members of the city staff, said he was impressed.
"This is the most tremendous Habitat project I've seen in my nine cities I've served," said Scott, who previously served as city manager for a number of Southern California cities, including Beverly Hills, Fresno and San Bernardino.
Johnson pointed to the positive effect the renovation of five homes in the neighborhood as well as the construction of two new homes for veteran families could have in the area overall.
"When there are improvements made, it's contagious," he said. "It can really be a neighborhood game-changer."
Buckets of cleaning supplies dedicated to veterans moving into the March Veterans Village in Riverside on Thursday. (Photo: Alena Maschke)