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Texas town holds 'Christmas in April'

There will be a mammoth ''fix up'' day, called the ''Christmas in April'' project, in this flourishing West Texas community on Saturday, April 24.

About 3,000 volunteers will swarm over 80 houses belonging to low-income elderly and handicapped residents, and by sundown these modest homes will be repaired and 500 gallons of fresh paint will glisten on them inside and out. Weary crews of workers from at least 38 local churches and numerous civic and business organizations in town will proudly survey their accomplishments, and witness the grateful faces of recipients who own their own homes but lack the financial and physical resources to do the necessary upkeep on them.

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One veteran volunteer remarked, ''It is one of the most heartwarming sights ever, to see men, women, boys, and girls from every walk of life working side by side wielding hammers, saws, wrenchs, paintbrushes, rakes, and brooms, to be of service to those who are not able to help themselves. A project like this pulls the community and its residents together in a remarkable bond of fellowship and sharing.''

No government or United Way funds are used at all for this effort, which involves only local money, local talent, and local volunteer manpower. This fact inspired the town newspaper, the Midland Reporter-Telegram, to comment editorially, ''Midland has many residents who believe in taking care of their own rather than going to Washington for help on projects which they themselves can do more economically, quickly, and efficiently.''

This annual bootstrap operation is now nine years old, and is held the last Saturday of each April, although emergency work goes on throughout the year. Over 150 houses will be repaired before the end of 1982. Last year the 2,600 volunteers (including lawyers, bankers, engineers, teachers, doctors, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and truck drivers) gave 20,000 hours of time to repair 132 homes.

Over 700 homes have been repaired since the project began in 1973 as an annual housing repair project of one of the local YMCAs in South Midland, a blighted area where many minority as well as white residents live. Funds used for the project come from individuals, churches, organizations, and businesses in town. Many building supplies are donated by businesses and stored in a warehouse until ready for use.

Early in the history of the project a woman whose home had been fixed exclaimed, ''Why, it's just like Christmas in April!'' and the name stuck, though it is often shortened to CIA. It is considered to be the only such volunteer repair project of its kind in the United States.

Bobby Trimble, coordinator and director of the project, is a hardworking citizen who is an oil field scout when he isn't devoting many hours each week to Christmas in April. He not only drives his share of nails, but also knows how to draw thousands of others into the project. Recently he received one of President Ronald Reagan's 16 Volunteer Action Awards. He was selected from 2,300 nominees from over the country, and he had lunch with President Reagan and a banquet with Vice-President George Bush. Just a few weeks before he was given the Golden Deeds Award by the Exchange Club of Midland for his deeds for public good, ''motivated only by an innate desire to help others.''

All recipients of Christmas in April's help must be 60 or older, or so physically handicapped that they cannot earn their own living. They must own their own homes and live on small fixed incomes. Most of the recipients, says Mr. Trimble, have an income of about $250 a month.

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Mr. Trimble has been working with a surveying team for weeks, checking out houses, buying the materials needed for repairs, and storing them for future use. As coordinator, he provides the central authority through which all decisions are cleared. Christmas in April is a chartered nonprofit organization with a volunteer board of directors. Because it has no employees, the paper work involved with screening applicants, publicity, and fund raising is coordinated by the staff of the Human Relations Council, a locally funded multipurpose social service agency.

A packet of information is prepared ahead of time on each house chosen for repair. Details of repairs needed are given, along with a picture of the house, plus information about the recipient. Representatives of all the churches and service clubs, such as Lions, Rotary, or Jaycees, meet to choose the house each feels their group is able to repair. The only help from city and county is the loan of three dump trucks which haul debris to the city dump.

All the teams meet in the park for a picnic lunch, which is provided by still other organizations. Everyone meets everyone, gets acquainted, and swaps stories.

As for his own sense of service and desire to help others, Mr. Trimble explains it this way: ''I came from a large family up in Goree, Texas, that worked hard for what it got, and I remember the depression of the 1930s and the way families helped each other out. They cared. And we care today. I think that is what President Reagan wants us to get back to. I am also a religious man and I am convinced that people are blessed by what they do for others.''

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