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Volunteers make trip to Buffalo to join Wipe Out Lead campaign

Sweat off the brows of a few hundred volunteers went a long way this week in Buffalo, as members of churches from across the country gathered here to spruce up 61 area homes.

They sanded, scraped and hammered. But most of all, they painted -- and did so using only lead-safe practices. It was all part of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo's Wipe Out Lead campaign.

Cara Matteliano, spokeswoman for the foundation, said the volunteers, mostly students, wore gloves and masks as they learned to cover lead-based paint in selected homes.

"A lot of people do volunteer work, but they don't do lead-safe practices," she said. "We wanted to prove that a big volunteer group could do it, and it wouldn't slow them down."

About 430 people were split among small work groups at each home -- the bulk of the work ending today.

The foundation and volunteers view the campaign's results as positive -- and in more ways than one, Matteliano said. While the campaign initially targeted lead safety, she said, it has evolved into something else.

"It's the home repair," she said. "It's the kids' lives. It's the residents' hope."

For Eddie Mae Harris, the students working on her Mulberry Street home have brought the gift of fellowship, something she appreciates more than their labor.

"I met some nice people here," Harris said. "They're religious, that's one good thing. They know the Lord, that's the best thing. I think with the young people this is something they would treasure through their life."

Harris, who applied for the program through a neighborhood block club, saw the half-dozen volunteers repaint the chipped green trim on her brick house and also shore up sagging gutters.

"I learned a lot. I didn't know too much about fixing houses," said volunteer Gil Clark, 14, of Rockport, Mass. "But that's not really what it's about. It's about becoming better people."

At Digna Murphy's home on Chelsea Place, Michelle Delfosse, 22, and other volunteers rebuilt the front porch -- stacks of boards scattered throughout the yard, with the heads and arms of workers occasionally appearing from beneath the porch deck.

Delfosse, who said her volunteer work has "recharged her God batteries," has gotten to know Murphy and her family and even shared meals.

"We had lunch with [Murphy] today, and she said it touched her heart," said Delfosse, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. "She actually gave us this little card that talks about how even though no one notices what we've done, God knows [and] that really we don't need recognition to touch people's lives."

Murphy said that when the volunteers wrap up work today, "I'll be sad to see them go."

Members of the Mulberry Street work group also shared a common bond. Thursday, the girls wore cross necklaces from Harris, who also gave the boys angel statues. .

Stephanie Back, 37, was the group leader and received an elephant from the homeowner's personal collection.

"She said, 'If I can't part with it, it's not worth having,' " Back said of Harris. "I almost cried."

e-mail: jsmith@buffnews.com

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