Bea Gaddy used to tell her children that if disaster struck they should expect to handle it alone. Yesterday, a pair of Towson homebuilders proved her wrong.
When you feed dozens of people a day, as Mrs. Gaddy does in her East Baltimore row house soup kitchen, a flood from a broken water pipe can wreak havoc. And when you learn that repairing the pipe is going to cost $6,700, havoc begets disaster.
That's what Mrs. Gaddy faced until Gary Houston and Rick Yaffe of Landmark Homes arrived at her North Collington Avenue home yesterday with an offer to fix the whole mess. For free.
"It's enough to celebrate. We have water," an exuberant Mrs. Gaddy said last night, after the Landmark crews spent 3 1/2 hours replacing the broken pipe. "I didn't think people cared that much."
Mrs. Gaddy's row house had been without water since Wednesday morning, when city public works crews finally arrived to shut off the supply to the soup kitchen. A service pipe connecting her row house to the city water main broke Tuesday night, flooding her basement with a steady stream of water and red mud.
The city told Mrs. Gaddy that the broken pipe was her responsibility. Mrs. Gaddy, who for the past decade has been feeding the hungry and helping the homeless in her East Baltimore neighborhood, didn't know what to do. She put a sign on her row house door, advising folks that "due to main water break. . . we are unable to prepare food."
But when she got up yesterday morning and saw a knot of hungry people waiting at her back door, Mrs. Gaddy, 58, decided she would find a way to serve food. By noon, Rose Nichols stood in Mrs. Gaddy's kitchen, ladling boiled chicken into soft rolls, while Melody Williams wrapped the sandwiches in aluminum foil and passed them to the hungry waiting outside.
In the front room, where Mrs. Gaddy usually serves a hot meal to 19 people, Mr. Yaffe stood with mobile phone in hand. He called the subcontractors he would need to pull up a concrete slab behind the house, replace the water pipe and provide Mrs. Gaddy with a new floor in a covered back porch.
"Just shut our jobs down until we get this done," Mr. Houston said, as Mr. Yaffe spoke with a subcontractor. "It's nice when you build 400 houses, you have a lot of help."
Mr. Yaffe, the president of Landmark Builders, heard about Mrs. Gaddy's plight on a radio broadcast yesterday morning as he drove to his Towson office. He and Mr. Houston, Landmark's chairman, decided to help.
"I was born in Baltimore. It's nice what goes around comes around. This lady, she's doing everything for all these people," said Mr. Houston, whose firm has provided home repairs to the needy as part of an annual "Building Friendships" program.
As the homebuilders checked the needed repairs, Mr. Yaffe turned to the lady of the house and asked: "What kind of linoleum do you want?"
"Don't care," said Mrs. Gaddy, who then added, "Something light."
Since the media began reporting the crisis, Mrs. Gaddy said she'd received a couple of calls from people offering to donate $100. The contractor who initially estimated the repair work at $6,700 later called back and offered to do the job for free.
"But these people came first," said Mrs. Gaddy, referring to Landmark Homes. "That's a blessing. I just didn't think anyone would respond. I was wrong. I was really wrong."
Except for the city Public Works Department's terse response that the broken water pipe was her problem and hers alone, the advocate for the homeless said she hadn't heard from anyone at City Hall.
"They might not have heard about it," she said.
With water restored to the soup kitchen, Mrs. Gaddy said she will be able to serve a full complement of breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday.
Besides changing her views on disasters, Mrs. Gaddy said the flood taught her one other lesson: "Always cook more food than you need so you can freeze it."