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Blue Tarp Project repairing roofs, restoring hope

When Hurricane Michael tore through southwest Georgia last year, high winds and falling trees destroyed homes and damaged roofs. More than a year later, blue tarps still dot the landscape, covering hundreds of homes still in need of repair.
Seminole County’s Lisa Minto’s two roofs were among those hit.
Her restaurant, Mintos’ Sports Bar & Grill, which she and her husband had just opened three months prior, lost its roof. The roof on her home was damaged and water leaked in every time it rained.
With no homeowner’s insurance and their savings used to repair the restaurant’s roof, the Mintos had nothing left to fix their home.
“We had to replace tarp after tarp to keep the rain from pouring in the house,” Minto said.
They applied for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but never received assistance.
She felt stuck.
Today, though, she gives thanks to God for His provision through the Blue Tarp Project of Seminole County, a non-profit organization that assists non-insured homeowners with needed roof repairs. Its goal is to remove every blue tarp from Seminole County, says Rev. Nate Lehman, who helped found the group.
“One roof at a time, we’re going to repair them,” said Rev. Lehman, pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church in Donalsonville. “We’re only at the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of roofs out there that still have tarps on them.”
A long-term recovery group founded by area churches and community leaders, the Blue Tarp Project of Seminole County is funded by donations. It operates in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which is working in southwest Georgia to coordinate long term recovery efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Michael. While the Blue Tarp Project focuses on roofs, UMCOR focuses on repairing and restoring the interior of homes, said case manager Josh McElyea.
Most roofs the Blue Tarp Project repairs cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 to replace, and homeowners are responsible for a portion of the cost. Minto and her husband, Glenn, paid for about 30 percent of the cost of their repairs.
“It meant everything for the Blue Tarp Project to help,” Minto said. “What we paid was nowhere near what it would have cost. We received several quotes and would look at them and think there was no way we could afford them.”
While the Blue Tarp Project is helping provide tangible relief, it’s also giving hope and encouragement to people who have lost much, said case manager Billy Williams.
“Some of these people have just accepted the way they’re living,” said Williams, who vets applicants and coordinates aid for the Blue Tarp Project from his office at Friendship UMC. “Their houses leak every time it rains. It’s hard to fathom that more than a year after a hurricane you’ve got this much damage left.”
Williams, a local pharmacist, volunteers his time to the Blue Tarp Project and works tirelessly to advocate on behalf of homeowners. In the two months he’s been involved, 10 roofs have been repaired. There’s probably about 150 more left to fix, he said.
“There are still a lot of needs down here.”
As attentive as Williams is to the homeowner’s physical needs, he’s even more in tune to what’s going on with their spirit. He listens to their stories, meets needs, helps when and how he can, and lets God do the rest.
“It really comes back to the simple idea of building relationships with people, one on one, just like our Lord Jesus did. That’s what’s going to meet the needs of the people.”
Every time Minto leaves her house she stops and looks at their new roof.
“It’s just a huge, huge, huge blessing. I believe that the Lord put us together,” she said of the Blue Tarp Project. “He answered a prayer and put us together. I’m forever grateful to those folks.”
“The Blue Tarp Project is really a continuation response to the great needs in this community.  Simply put, the goal for the ‘Blue Tarp Project’  is to remove as many tarps as possible,” said Williams.
Through  a generous financial investment designated for Hurricane Michael relief, Blue Tarp Project seeks to assist and help relieve the financial burden for non insured owners who are in need of roof repair.
“While many of us have been blessed to return to some sort of “norm”, countless others in our community did not have insurance or the resources to mitigate their circumstances. Blue Tarp is committed to those who qualify (owner, denied by FEMA, etc.) whose roof is damaged and are in need of financial support.
Part of the challenge now is just identifying those who most need the help. The program is funded through donations, but homeowners are asked to chip in what they can,” added Williams.
The local recovery group also hosts teams doing debris cleanup and general repair volunteers from all over southwest Georgia. “We have about a mission team a week coming in right now. We provide them a space to sleep and eat and just be comfortable while they’re here,” says Lehman.
County residents still in need of roof repairs are encouraged to fill out a short application on the recovery group’s Facebook page. Log in to Facebook and search for the Seminole-Donalsonville Long Term Recovery Group page.
Donations towards the Blue Tarp Project are accepted at Friendship United Methodist Church in Donalsonville.
Blue Tarp is a non-profit organization and depends on donations, when the funds are depleted the project will be suspended. However, a new  web site called Givelify is receiving donations for Blue Tarp. You can access at then  select Blue Tarp.
Parts of this article was written by Kara Witherow, editor, South Georgia Advocate

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