Fifty-three businesses are listed on the back of the commemorative T-shirt for the community effort that built a house for Jerry Bajema after he nearly severed an arm in a chain-saw accident.
Each business helped out, from supplying materials and labor to build and furnish the house to supporting activities to raise money for the project.
The first business listed is Squalicum Builders. That's fitting, because Squalicum's owner, Meshak Drew, volunteered to be lead contractor. Along with overseeing a weekend blitz to frame and roof Bajema's house, Drew persuaded numerous subcontractors and skilled laborers to chip in, and obtained county permits for the work in quick fashion.
The house replaced Bajema's fire-damaged shack on his rural acreage uphill from Van Zandt. Bajema, who is retired and in his 60s, didn't have the money to make needed improvements, so when neighbors saw the condition of his house after the accident they were determined to fix it up or replace it to support their helpful, quiet bachelor friend.
On Nov. 4, just four months after Bajema was rushed to the hospital in dire shape, Drew, other workers and business people who helped, along with many of Bajema's neighbors, gathered for a potluck celebration in the new, 830-square-foot house overlooking the pond that Bajema built on his property.
"It's been such a joy doing this for Jerry," Drew said. "It was neat to be that piece of that puzzle."
It's not the first time Drew has gone out of his way to help someone in a big way. Two years ago he volunteered to rebuild an elderly Bellingham man's house because the city was ready to condemn his rundown home.
"He was willing to live in a shack because he bought it 20 or 25 years prior," Drew recalled. "He couldn't afford to fix it up."
Drew estimated what a replacement house would cost, after deducting for his volunteer time and other donations, and the man's sister had enough money to cover the difference. Drew was familiar with the hands-on challenges of building the man a house, but learned that it takes a lot of time and effort to find other people willing to help with labor, materials and donations.
So when a neighbor of Bajema's contacted Drew out of the blue to see if he might, Drew was pleased to hear that a core of Bajema's friends were already organizing to raise money, contact companies and find volunteers. With that extra support, Drew could focus on what he knows best: construction.
"All I really had to do is the stuff that I do every day," he said.
Drew said he has taken on the projects, in part, because he sees it as putting his Christian faith into action.
"This is part of what we do," he said, "take care of each other."
He also values the idea of people helping each other to the extent possible, rather than relying on public agencies to do the job.
"If we don't take care of each other, then someone else needs to," he said. "It's way less fun if the government does it, and it's way more expensive."
With a couple of volunteer house projects under his belt, Drew is now exploring a new way to contribute his professional skills - helping families that need more space when they adopt foster children.
Drew hasn't had foster kids himself, but he has relatives who adopted three foster siblings.
"I'm recently passionate about foster care," he said.
He's still exploring the details, but he envisions perhaps taking on a couple of projects a year for such families, whether it's adding on to their house, remodeling existing space, or finding a family a fixer-upper and then fixing it up.
"There's this whole range of things that you could do," he said.
If his new plan works out like his earlier projects, things should work out fine. Drew has seen first-hand that people appreciate the chance to help others. He's even had people who donated to Bajema's house thanking him for giving them the opportunity to donate.
"We need to care for each other, or bureaucracy has to care for us," Drew said. "Why not be part of a community and help people in need?"
The Bellingham Herald salutes Whatcom County people who help make our community a great place to live with our annual Ten Who Cared series. If you have a suggestion for someone we should salute next year, please email email@example.com.