COLUMBIA — When Melissa Tunmire opened the cardboard box, she gasped.
“I know that smell,” she said.
It was the smell of rot and mold, a visceral reminder of Hurricane Rita. The Category 5 storm, which made land on Sept. 24, 2005, chased Tunmire and her 12-year-old daughter, Bethany, from their home near Galveston, Texas.
Now, almost two years later, they were moving from a small apartment in west Columbia into a new home, built by about 300 volunteers working with Habitat for Humanity.
As the two sorted through bags and boxes of their belongings, the memory of the evacuation of Galveston returned with the smell from a moldy box.
“It’s so invasive,” Tumire said. “I remember I tried to bleach everything before I packed it when we evacuated.”
Hurricane Rita didn’t destroy the trailer home Tunmire and her daughter lived in. But the winds pried the roof from the building’s frame, allowing water to pour in and run down the walls. After that, the floors never dried and rotted away, eventually collapsing altogether.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration gave Tunmire $2,800 for repairs, and her church offered support as well. Members would stop by her home to see how she was doing, but after awhile, their visits became sparse.
“We finally realized that they thought we had left,” Tunmire said. “We couldn’t hear them knocking because we were always in the back of the trailer with our mattresses up against the walls to keep the bugs out.”
Fleas and tree roaches had started to invade the trailer. One night, when Tunmire pulled the blanket off the sleeping palette, it was covered with grubs.
“What you’ve gotta understand is I’m a Texan. And we’re stubborn. I didn’t want to leave my home,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “But God was tryin’ so hard to get me to leave that place.”
Brandi, Tunmire’s oldest daughter, called from Columbia, asking Melissa and Bethany to move to Missouri. Tunmire packed as much as she could, mostly Bethany’s things, and they made their way to Missouri.
In June 2006, Melissa and Bethany moved into a small apartment. They joined the local Church of Latter Day Saints, and Melissa got a job as a patient care assistant through the Services for Independent Living. The apartment was better than her trailer, and the church had donated some furniture and mattresses, but Tunmire was still sleeping on the floor.
“I’m in pain all the time from sleeping on bad beds,” Tunmire said.
In early January, a counselor from the Lutheran Children and Family Services urged Tunmire to apply with a Habitat for Humanity program called House That Greeks Built, which was started by MU Greek Life. Members of different Greek organizations come together each year to raise $40,000 and build a family a home.
About 250 Greeks went to work at a lot off Oakland Gravel Road on March 1, launching what they referred to as a “Blitz Build.” Bill View, executive director of Show Me Central Habitat for Humanity, said the young workers were “amazing.”
“Young people working together to plan, raise funds and provide the labor for someone else certainly bolsters my confidence in our future leaders of this country,” he said.
Several of the Tunmires’ friends from church put in time on construction, and the Tunmire family was responsible for 250 hours of “sweat equity.”
On July 30, Tunmire headed to Boone Title and Loan to complete the paperwork. Later, parking her car beneath her new carport, Tunmire was beaming. After moving three times in less than two years, her twin mattress was still on the floor. But, finally, she was home.
“This time, it’s a good move,” she said “I can put my roots in.”