Larry Sillanpa

You couldn’t have asked for better weather on Saturday, Sept. 19. It was a perfect day for fishing, golfing, working on projects at home, or a family outing. But before a lot of us had breakfast, five dozen members of many unions of the Duluth Building & Construction Trades Council (DBCTC) volunteered to help Duluth’s Damiano Center get a much needed roof project underway.

They are busy people in a booming construction season that finds contractors unable to take on more work and many workers toiling long hours, longing for their weekends off. But not only did they volunteer, some came from as far away as International Falls and the Twin Cities to help.

“The Roofers (Local 96) and Sheet Metal Workers (Local 10) brought their apprentices and training staff,” said DBCTC President Craig Olson. “We all try to instill in our apprentices and members the importance of community service. This was a perfect project for that to happen.”

The 18,000 square foot, steeply-peaked, high, roof of the former Sacred Heart Elementary School, built in 1904 at 206 West Fourth Street, had shingles that are close to failure. Without replacement, the Damiano Center’s Soup Kitchen, which serves 120,000 meals a year to homeless and other low-income residents, would soon be jeopardized by extensive water damage. Clothing and many household items are also collected and distributed to needy families at Damiano.

Unfortunately, Damiano does not have the estimated $168,000 needed to install a new roof. Fortunately, the Center is located in a city and region with a lot of generous people and organizations.

“The only way you get the coordination needed for a project of this scope is by having a bunch of people who know what they’re doing,” said Olson. “There’s a reason our members are the best and can show up on a Saturday and work together to get this done. It’s proper training that produces great skill and productivity.”

Union contractor JAMAR stepped up big time with staff and equipment to start the project and they’ll finish it after volunteers tore off and replaced as much as they could that first Saturday. There was no shortage of help on Day One. Volunteers, materials, and equipment were all donated for the effort. Scaffolding, ladders, roof jacks, and a crane were all ready for the volunteers when they arrived.

More than a dozen organizations provided materials and services. Green Mill provided lunch and many great drawings donated by businesses, organizations, and individuals were awarded to lucky winners.

One of them was Doug Christy, Business Representative of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10. One of the last off the roof for lunch he signed up before eating and won two tickets to the Chris Young Concert Dec. 3rd, a $90 value and a big bonus to the country music fan. On his drive to Duluth from his Grand Rapids home, Christy stopped at the Sheet Metals Worker 10’s Saginaw union training facility and brought 25 volunteers to the Damiano project.

“Our apprenticeship instructor Mike Wunch is a JAMAR foreman and he let the students out of class for half of the day to volunteer at Damiano and help Vance Anderson and Craig Olson with this huge undertaking,” Christy said. “We can promote unionism in the region by volunteering for community events like that.”

Vance Anderson, Business Representative of Roofers Local 96, oversaw and provided the expertise for the Damiano project. He said over a dozen of his members were honored to donate services.

“Our skilled trades people are part of this community, and we know how important the Damiano Center is to the lives of so many,” said Anderson. “We’re happy to donate many hours to help ensure that the Damiano Center will have a dry, safe place to conduct its fine programs for many years to come.”

As the work went on that Saturday, many community members walked into the Damiano Center to make use of its services.

“We are overwhelmed by how the JAMAR Company and many more in the construction field, as well as others throughout our community are pitching in to ensure that the people who depend on the Damiano Center will see no interruption in the crucial services they receive,” said Damiano Center Executive Director Dave Benson. “We are extremely thankful for everyone who has answered the call, including the JAMAR Company for leading this massive project, Duluth Building Trades people for donating much of their time to replace our roof, and many others.” He said all participating organizations have the Damiano Center’s gratitude.

Other programs and activities of Damiano, which has occupied this facility since 1982, include Damiano Kids Cafe, which provides meals and activities for over 400 neighborhood children annually; Clothing Exchange, which re-distributes donations of over 300,000 items each year; Clothes That Work, which helps 2,500 people seeking or starting jobs each year; Community Services, which provides information and referral along with hygiene products, transportation assistance and other services; and Health Realizations, a weekly meeting of people seeking help with a variety of personal issues.

Additional information is at DamianoCenter.org.