EVERETT — After everyone went home for the night, a valve broke.
On June 17, water flowed down the stairs into the lobby of the Assistance League of Everett. It leaked into the smoke detectors, triggering the alarm.
Volunteers returned that night and found themselves ankle deep in water. Crumbling ceiling tiles fell from above.
They looked at soggy boxes of T-shirts and gloves. Come September, kids will begin arriving by the busloads to pick out new clothes for the school year.
At first glance, volunteers thought they lost at least half of their inventory. They spent more than 175 hours sifting through boxes and laundering clothes.
They salvaged almost everything.
The Assistance League of Everett, a volunteer-run nonprofit, has served Snohomish County for more than than five decades. Through its program Operation School Bell, nearly 4,500 kids and teens received new school clothes for free last year. A section of the organization’s building has been converted into a store.
Volunteers try to bring in kids during the fall before the weather gets chilly. Each child can take home a new winter coat.
The leak added to the work necessary to make that giving possible.
Carla Hogan, president of the Assistance League of Everett, heard about the leak around 9 p.m. that day.
The power to the building was cut as a safety precaution, which disabled the smoke alarms. Hogan and other volunteers took turns covering an around-the-clock fire watch.
Hogan found out the emergency lights in the building only stay on for four hours.
Power wasn’t restored for four days.
The leak was caused by a faulty valve upstairs. Water soaked into the wall and insulation. Contractors removed the bottom two feet of most walls in the building to dry up the moisture.
Hogan said they were lucky the thrift shop the Assistance League operates downstairs did not sustain much damage. It is the organization’s primary source of revenue.
The shopping and storage areas used for Operation School Bell needed the most repairs.
Volunteers went through boxes of clothes item by item.
Diane Pedack, the inventory chair, found T-shirts with a colorful mermaid on the front. The stained fabric was still wet weeks after the leak. Though some clothes weren’t able to be saved, volunteers salvaged the Seahawks shirts. Those are favorites among the kids.
Pedack sent baskets of clothes home with volunteers to wash and hosted two laundry parties. They spent seven-hour days at a laundromat.
“We’ve had a few sleepless nights,” Pedack said. “It could have been worse. It could have happened in August when we were trying to clothe children.”
Hogan hopes the repairs will wrap up within six weeks, just in time to welcome kids back for school clothes shopping.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.