Flooding at Fox Chapel Presbyterian devastates Harvest Fair donations
Chick Pfeiffer was dripping in sweat as he rolled a grocery cart full of sopping clothes from the basement of Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church to a Dumpster waiting along Springhouse Lane.
He'd heard the news of flooding, grabbed his rubber boots and showed up to help. He spent the first four hours July 5 vacuuming water from the brightly colored preschool room.
“I was kind of shocked,” said Pfeiffer, a Shaler resident. “We live so close but didn't experience anything like this.”
On July 2, the church at the corner of Fox Chapel and Field Club roads, was hit with three feet of flooding in the basement where thousands of donations are stored year-round for the annual fall Harvest Fair.
When fair Director Gwen Zaleski arrived late that night, she and others couldn't push open the church doors.
“There was too much water. All we could do was look through the windows and we saw everything floating,” Zaleski said.
“Donations that were stacked high had tumbled down from the force of the water.”
The Harvest Fair is an annual fundraiser that nets more than $100,000 to distribute back into the community. Money goes to local charities such as All of Us Care in Sharpsburg and Meals on Wheels in Aspinwall. Portions of the proceeds also benefit international women's and children's groups, including preschools in Afghanistan.
Zaleski said donations begin pouring into the church in April, and by mid-summer, many of the 14 basement rooms are brimming with furniture, clothes, jewelry, housewares, books and decorations.
She estimates 80 percent of the items donated so far were lost in the recent flood.
“We're disinfecting what we can, but any type of wood or fabric has to be thrown out,” she said. “We will revisit this in a few weeks and see what to do. We lost our workspace.
“There is nowhere else in the church to store all of this stuff.”
The church will not take any donations until further notice, she said. Volunteers will spend the next weeks cleaning walls, floors and salvageable items.
During initial cleanup, the sidewalks and lawn near the church were dotted with an odd array of treasures, from ceramic angels to tiki torches to garden hoses.
Associate Pastor Ellen Dawson said she is grateful the damage wasn't more widespread.
The church, she said, was open after the storms as a refuge for people stranded in their vehicles on flooded roads.
“There were a lot of rooms that weren't damaged, and we were able to provide for people,” she said. “We've had flooding before but never to this extent. It was so fast and it came down from all sides.”
Nancy Speed, a church member for nearly 30 years, helped squirt a hose over glasses and plates that could be saved for sale. She helped haul crates of clothes and trinkets up a narrow path to the Dumpster.
“The church is important to the community,” she said.
“It is significant damage and we need all hands on board.”