Inspector, volunteers save vet's Thanksgiving

LOS ANGELES Steve Avelar understands the meaning of sacrifice. The ex-Marine served two tours of duty in Iraq. But when his mother fell ill, he decided to come home to take care of her, and expand his dilapidated childhood home into a more livable space.

But a home improvement job that was supposed to take six months stalled for a year and a half when the married father of two fell victim to a contractor's scam that wiped out him out financially.

"It was very devastating," said Avelar. "Our life savings, all the money we had taken out for the house to build, it's gone."

L.A. city building inspector Dan Orrante heard about it and decided he couldn't sit by and do nothing.

"I know that guy. I know that family. You know what? I need to do something," said Orrante. "It was like an opportunity."

Orrante started asking construction workers to donate building materials and sweat equity, and word quickly spread.

"Hey, I know how to put cement on, I know how to stucco. Hey, I have a friend. He's willing to do the kitchen cabinets," said Orrante.

For the past two weeks, several men have pitched in to rebuild Avelar's house for free.

"Take care of them, help them out, especially right now when everything is very hard and I'm sure people are taking it very hard this year," said Oscar Sandoval, who donated materials. "Whatever we can do to supply free materials to donate to him, help him out a little bit."

"They come here on their free time and just work, work, work, hour after hour," said Avelar.

"Many people, they need help, and we can help," said one of the volunteer contractors.

"It melts my heart. It's overwhelming. I just, I don't even know what to say," said Avelar.

"You still need installation, drywall, you need taping, painting, you need all the floors," said Victor Westin, one of the volunteer contractors.

Even though the house may not be finished for several months, for Avelar, Thanksgiving will be a day with special meaning, because he says he has so much to be thankful for.

"I'm just very thankful for what they're giving," said Avelar.

To volunteer help or materials, contact city building inspector Dan Orrante at (818) 357-8654.

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