Fayette County

Buildings are towers of thanks

This was a good sign, the Rev. Ralph Beiting said, a sign that on this Thanksgiving, loving American people want to help each other:

A 48-foot tractor-trailer pulled up to Ballard-Griffith Towers in Lexington late Wednesday afternoon carrying 10,000 pounds of pillows, sheets and blankets for the estimated 100 residents of the public housing apartments who have lost their bedding and furniture to a bedbug infestation.

In the last three weeks, at the private request of people working in the mayor's office and other city officials who have launched an unofficial grass-roots effort, local churches have donated $17,000 and bedding to replace what residents lost, said Marianne Blodgett, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

A long line of volunteers stepped up Wednesday to unload the trailer, including Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington.

Mayor Jim Newberry contacted Gainer, who contacted the Rev. Ralph Beiting, who runs a mission in Louisa, and through a former colleague, Beiting arranged for a Pennsylvania company to send the bedding items to Lexington. The diocese also donated $6,000, and more donations were taken at Lexington's Catholic churches Sunday.

"They have love in them and want to help," Beiting said.

Shirlyne Mosley, a social service coordinator in the Urban County Adult Services Division, was one of the first city employees to contact her church, Shiloh Baptist, and ask for donations for the residents of the building owned by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Housing Authority. Mosley said she also received a donation from O.L. Hughes & Sons Mortuary.

Clays Mill Baptist Church also made a donation, Blodgett said, as did several other churches. The Black Church Coalition in Lexington has agreed to act as a repository for the funds.

Meanwhile, Mosley has been assigned to Ballard-Griffith Towers for the last three weeks, and she and other housing authority workers were making a door-to-door survey to see what items residents had to throw away and what they need.

One hundred residents or more have lost bedding or furniture, Mosley said. Ten residents lost nearly all their belongings, and another ten moved out of the building, she said.

"Everything I had in the house was ruined," said resident Sarah Lewis, who will turn 102 on Jan. 14. Lewis said she spent her own money to replace her belongings.

Mosley's own mother, Helen Persley, who is a resident, lost her furniture and bedding to the bedbugs. But Mosley said family members helped her mother replace her belongings.

"It's a blessing she had family. A lot of these people don't have family," she said.

Replacing beds is the first priority, Mosley said, and then officials will help residents find other furniture.

Although the city does not own the apartment towers, Blodgett said, "These are residents of the community, and they are in need."

Bedbugs are small, flat, brownish insects that eat blood. They don't transmit disease, but their bites can cause itching. Bedbug infestations have become increasingly common in the United States in recent years.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Housing Authority is treating all 317 apartments in Ballard-Griffith Towers in three sessions in an attempt to get the bedbugs under control.

"I will hand it to the housing authority and the mayor and (city) social workers," resident Claire Brooks, 59, said Wednesday. "They've held tenant meetings and pulled agencies together."

Teddi Smith-Robillard, who is president of the building's residents' council and is having to replace her belongings piece by piece, said she was encouraged by the donations from Lexington's faith-based community.

"I think it's good that churches are stepping up," Robillard said.