JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was early November, more than two years after Hurricane Irma.
Georgiann Quarles walked into her home on West 3rd Street, passing under a towel wedged above the doorway.
"I did that so when people came in, they wouldn't have to duck the water," she said.
She led the way through her kitchen into a bedroom.
The wall above a twin bed was bare except for two framed pictures, one of a young boy kneeling and saying a prayer, the other of a prayer, "My Lord is My Shepherd."
Above the bed, the ceiling had a crack and large water stain.
Five of her great grandchildren had been living in the house before the mold led to respiratory issues and trips to the emergency room.
She continued walking through the house, to the living room at the back, taking a seat in a chair.
Behind the chair, there was a bucket.
"Every time it rains, it rains in here," she said.
Her home, built in 1954, is a few blocks southwest of Edward Waters College, in the College Gardens neighborhood, where the median home value is under $50,000. The house already had a leaky roof before September 2017. Then Irma tore its way through Florida.
One of her granddaughters had fled Tampa with her family, thinking they were getting out of the storm's path -- only to see it hit Jacksonville.
"We sat here watching all the trees bending and swaying," she said, looking out the windows to her backyard.
When the storm passed, the roof was in even worse shape.
"Animals were coming in," she said. "Possums and rats."
She and family members did what they could to plug some holes. But without insurance, they only could do so much. And at age 77, she's on a small fixed income, not much more than the $9,000 in necessary repairs.
So two years later, there she was, still using buckets and towels.
As she spoke, though, the sound of footsteps could be heard overhead. Workers were tearing off the old roof, beginning the process of putting on a new one.
After that, the mold was taken care of, the work done before Thanksgiving, giving her reason to give thanks this holiday season for something she certainly doesn't take for granted. A roof over her head. A roof over the heads of her extended family -- including a granddaughter who's working on a cosmetology degree, and a grandson who is attending Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Her repairs are an example of the work being done by the Northeast Florida Long Term Recovery Organization. Created in December 2018, it's a collaborative network of governmental, business, faith-based and nonprofit organizations.
Raelyn Means, the organization's administrator, walked through the house with Quarles, learning more about her story -- she grew up in Philadelphia, worked in healthcare much of her life, moved into this house about 15 years ago, lost one of her three sons this summer.
"It's easy to take for granted when you do have insurance and are able to recover quickly," Means said. "It's difficult when you don't have those resources and get stuck in a cycle of not being able to recover. We have some families that were still trying to recover from Hurricane Matthew and then Irma hit."
That's part of the goal of the program -- to prepare for the next storm.
"There are other programs that will do minor repairs or pathwork," Means said. "But we're really trying to focus on getting more resilient for next time as well. That's why we're doing a lot of roof replacements, making sure structures are strong ... so that hopefully if there is another storm, they won't be back in the queue for assistance."
They're repaired more than 20 homes since starting last spring. Their goal is to fix 100 homes by next summer. Their average repair has been about $14,000.
They're working with money from the Salvation Army's statewide recovery program and donations from groups such as the United Way, The Community Foundation, Florida Blue, Wells Fargo, Florida Capital Bank and PNC Bank.
As challenging as the last two years have been for Quarles, she figures it could have been worse. She talked about feeding people who are homeless. At least she had a home. With the roof repaired and the mold removed, she was happy to have her granddaughter and grandchildren under it again.
She recalled when she was growing up. Her grandmother had a big, three-story house in Philadelphia and would take in family members until they got on their feet and could afford their own places
"So that's in me," she said. "It makes me feel good."
When they gathered for the holidays this year, it was different than the last two.
They could give thanks for more than what was over their head. They could give thanks for what wasn't over their head and at their feet. Towels and buckets.
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