Some 1,000 people help paint, clean and restore Seattle-area homes — for free — through Rebuilding Together Seattle.

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Vicki Powell needed a furnace so she wouldn’t have to keep her oven door open to stay warm at night in her small home in Columbia City.

Nearby, in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, a disabled veteran needed a rotting wooden staircase replaced. In White Center, a single mom living with her elderly mother needed a new stove.

And so Saturday, a thousand Seattle-area volunteers did what needy homeowners could not do or afford to do for themselves — including cleaning off rooftop moss, replacing garage doors or buying a new bed.

Rebuilding Together Seattle is part of a national nonprofit that used to be called Christmas in April, and volunteers spend the last Saturday in April sprucing up homes for the poor and disabled. It’s been a Seattle tradition since 1989.

Local volunteers Saturday worked on 25 houses in the Seattle area.

As cleanup projects go, Powell’s house was one for the books, volunteers said. Her yard was overrun by weeds and blackberry bushes. There was no sign of the garden of tomatoes her son once bragged about.

A dozen volunteers trimmed and uprooted 25 feet of blackberry vines, and in cutting through the thicket, recovered a dozen tires, a truck canopy and a motorcycle her late husband never got around to repairing. And was that a … yep, said one volunteer, it was a rusty, two-door Austin America car, its license plate from 1975.

“I’ve done this for four years in a row, and this is the most overwhelming project,” said Arnie Mondloch, a board member of Rebuilding Together Seattle.

Powell’s husband died in 1998, and the house has become tougher to manage, especially since she lost her right leg to diabetes last December.

Mom was always too proud to ask for help, said her 34-year-old son, David Powell. “With the passage of time, Dad passing away and kids moving out, she was in no condition to get out and do the yard,” he said.

The rodent-infested house had become so cluttered that she could maneuver her wheelchair only to part of the living room and kitchen. Stacks of VHS tapes, photo albums and leftover beauty supplies from her days as an Avon lady were scattered throughout.

The Seattle Chapter of the Gonzaga University Alumni Association took on this cleanup project, raising $4,000 and recruiting 74 alumni to paint and remove truckloads of weeds, debris and junk. They also recruited local businesses to donate or sell at a discount furniture, a washer and dryer, a furnace and a handicap ramp. They completed the cleanup Saturday and will put in the new furnace and 70-foot ramp next week.

Sitting in her wheelchair in the shade, Powell said she was touched so many strangers gave up a Saturday to help. Said her son, “We are all just incredibly overwhelmed by this.”

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or