Lowe’s program making homes safer

Christina Vargas watches as Lowe’s employees Curtis Benton, front left, Tracy Shelton, front right, and Elmo Garcia, back install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen of Vargas’ home Thursday in Clovis. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

Christina Vargas lives in a bright turquoise trailer home trimmed in white, with a small, no-maintenance rock lawn in front.

The white-haired grandmother sits on a tattered couch, her lap covered with a knit blanket. A portable heater sits nearby warming the small room. Toys and mail litter the floor.

Vargas casually apologizes as she nods at the curly haired toddler playing amongst scattered papers on the floor.

“Excuse the mess,” Vargas said. “My granddaughter was playing mail.”

Vargas is one of several foster parents who received a home visit Thursday morning from Lowe’s Heroes. The Lowe’s Heroes team was made up of five store employees who volunteer their personal time to work with homeowners, community groups and schools on home safety.

Vargas said she became a foster parent to a 13-year-old because the child’s mother was arrested. She proudly shows a keychain featuring the girl’s picture. “Alanna is the love of my life,” she said. “She has been with me off and on since she was a baby.”

According to a Lowe’s press release, approximately 30 employee volunteers from Lowe’s of Clovis partnered with the Children, Youth and Families Department of Clovis to help families in need. The press release said 20 foster families across Clovis and Portales were scheduled to receive assistance in home-safety improvements and upgrades.

The team arrived on Vargas’ doorstep with smiling faces, arms laden with supplies and tools. Elmo Garcia, Lowe’s Heroes captain, set the team to work installing safety equipment throughout the Vargas home. Two volunteers headed to the kitchen to hang a small fire extinguisher while others began efficiently installing a smoke detector in the narrow hallway.

Vargas calmly watched from her seat on the couch; her only request to the crew was the position of the alarm equipment. “I want it on the wall instead of the ceiling so I won’t have to hit it with a broom,” she said.

Lowe’s employee Rachel Gonzales was one of the volunteers assisting at the Vargas house. The energetic brunette said she has been employed with the home improvement store for over a year and wanted to become a Lowe’s Hero because she enjoys helping out.

“I would be here even if it weren’t the holiday season because I like to help out,” Gonzales said. “It just feels good.” She added one of her favorite parts is knowing she is helping the children. “I have a daughter of my own,” Gonzales said. “So, I like seeing the kids.”

Garcia said the main reason Lowe’s developed the program was to help reduce the number of children killed in home safety-related accidents. “There are over 3 million accidents involving children annually,” Garcia said. “Two thousand of those result in death, and any child dying is unnecessary.”

The volunteers concluded their visit by wishing the family a merry Christmas and presenting the foster grandmother with a final gift — a first-aid kit.