After more than five years of redirecting callers to a local charity office from his home phone, incorrectly listed as Samaritan’s Purse, the need for skilled carpenters in Hooper Bay has created a even closer tie between the charity and John Fant.
This fall Fant responded to an Anchorage Baptist Temple advertisement asking for volunteers with carpentry experience to rebuild houses in Hooper Bay, a village of 11,000 people where a raging fire swallowed 35 buildings in August, including 14 houses, a community school and grocery store.
Fant called the church and was soon put in touch with the Samaritan’s Purse in Soldotna, which, in partnership with several local churches, is providing aid to the village and racing to build five houses there before winter takes hold.
“He was really glad to meet me, because he’s been getting all of my calls,” said MaryJane Mills, office manager at Samaritan’s Purse in Soldotna.
Mills said Fant is one of two carpenters from Soldotna who has coordinated with the charitable organization’s Alaska office to help with the rebuilding project in Hooper Bay, an experience Fant described as unlike any other he has been involved with in his many years in carpentry.
“I’ve been pounding nails for 51 years,” he said. “I visualized (Hooper Bay) being flat and barren, but one of the things that surprised me is these houses are built right out on the tundra.”
In the poor Eskimo village, house foundations are built on a cross hatch of timbers rather than sunk into the ground, he said.
“And so they’re just sitting there kind of floating,” he said.
August’s fire struck deeply in Hooper Bay, a place where residents face difficult living conditions without the hardships brought about by the fire, he said.
He described the village as muddy and barren, and having “scads of four-wheelers,” but no automobiles.
Hooper Bay is only accessible by airplane or boat, and most of the residents there live in homes without plumbing and collect and dump their toilet wastes at a landfill using honey buckets, and collect drinking water from local ponds. According to Samaritan’s Purse, Hooper Bay also has one of the highest rates of depression in Alaska.
August’s fire left 70 people homeless, many of whom were living together in tight quarters as extended families. Since the fire, many have been living in even more cramped conditions, using floors of relatives and friends as beds.
“Right now they’re just bunking with this one and that one, the ones that lost houses,” Fant said.
Fant said some of the students who are still without a school have been coordinated to help with rebuilding efforts, including the Samaritan’s Purse effort, to erect five, four-bedroom houses by Thanksgiving.
In the week that he volunteered in Hooper Bay, Fant said he cut 18 foundation posts and built two door and nine window headers for each of the five houses.
He said the foundation posts elevate the houses above the ground so that wind and snow can blow beneath them.
Fant said although he has thought about volunteering for organizations using his carpentry skills before, that his experience with Samaritan’s Purse in Hooper Bay has inspired him consider more volunteer projects.
“This is my first time doing something like that,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience for me.”
And while he cannot sign up people interested in volunteering their skills through Samaritan’s Purse, he can direct callers to someone who can.
“We just tell them 1946,” Fant said, explaining how he redirects callers by giving them the correct last four digits of the Samaritan’s Purse phone number when they mistakenly call his house.
Samaritan’s Purse is a charitable organization that responds to communities in need throughout the world and can be reached at their Alaska office in Soldotna at 260-1946.
Patrice Kohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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