Jimmy Murphey, just two days shy of 80 years old, has survived two heart attacks and three strokes.
But his smile is generous, his handshake firm. He just might be in better shape than his home.
Murphey's modest one-story house on Woodsdale Place – where for 40 years he stored up mountains of canned and packaged foods for his annual feeding of thousands on Christmas Day – is so run-down he can't live in it.
The roof leaks. The foundation is cracked and the floors sag. Some eaves, walls and window frames are rotting. The heating and air-conditioning system is broken.
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Now Toyota of Concord has teamed up with the Cabarrus County Building Industry Association to raise money toward building a new home for Murphey.
They have started a fundraising campaign and are asking people in Cabarrus and Rowan counties to give back to someone who has continually put the community's needs ahead of his own, said Michelle Poe. She's a volunteer who works for Toyota of Concord and has helped Murphey with his annual toy drive.
“It just broke my heart this year. I couldn't stand it,” Poe said of seeing the condition of his house.
Living with neighbors
Because repairing Murphey's home would be costly, Cabarrus County volunteers, builders and financiers decided it would be more feasible to tear down the home. They are conducting a $125,000 campaign so they can demolish his house and replace it with a smaller, energy-efficient home that's more affordable to maintain.
Money raised would cover demolition, construction and also the $60,000 still owed on Murphey's mortgage.
Poe realizes this isn't the kind of economic environment to raise a lot of money; volunteers don't expect huge donations or many major corporate donors.
“We're not looking for thousand-dollar donations – just $5 or $10,” Poe said. “We know one company or one business can't do this alone…. There's just no way.”
While his house is sagging, Murphey is staying with next-door neighbors Fred and Brenda Stitt. Brenda Stitt said she's just returning the favor, since she had stayed with Murphey awhile when she needed a place to stay. He's been a father figure for her, she said, since her own father passed away.
Some years back, Murphey added onto his house so two of his late brothers could live with him. Unfortunately, the addition work compounded the house's structural problems, said contractor Andy Ragan, a member of the Building Industry Association who's working on the Murphey project.
‘We've got to do something'
After hearing about Murphey's situation, Ragan toured his house. In the bathroom, he saw the tub with high sides and no grab bars, and he knew that Murphey has suffered multiple strokes. When he asked how he could help, Ragan said, Murphey told him he wasn't asking for anything and didn't need anything.
That's when Ragan knew he wanted to help. “We've got to do something,” he said he told Poe.
On a more recent tour, Ragan pointed out places where moisture had been trapped behind the bedroom wall, which was bubbling out.
“I'm sure there's mold behind it,” he said.
The original part of the house has no insulation. Outside, he pointed out cracks in the foundation walls, parts of the addition with no foundation underneath and ductwork hanging without supports under the house.
With a healthier, safer replacement home, Murphey said, he finally will be able to stay in his own house.
“I was dumbfounded. I held my breath,” Murphey said of his reaction to learning about the effort to give him a home he could live in.
Fed more than 200,000
Because of his health, Murphey retired from leading his Christmas dinner effort this year. He also had distributed toys, groceries and clothing to needy families.
Poe estimates that more than 200,000 people have been fed over the 40 years that Murphey has served dinners. The former Army chef inherited the tradition of feeding the needy from his mother, the late Rosa Lee Murphey, who started in the 1930s.
“I want to continue, but I'm just not able,” Murphey said.
The Cooperative Christian Ministry and The Knights of Columbus from St. James the Greater Catholic Church in Concord and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Kannapolis have talked about possibly starting a ministry that could include feeding the needy for Christmas, said Sal Cawa, a Knights of Columbus member at St. James.
For the past nine years, Poe has volunteered for Murphey's holiday toy drive and visited his house to help distribute toys the day before Christmas. She firmly believes that the Cabarrus-Rowan region should step up to help out someone who has devoted so much of his adult life to helping the less fortunate.
“I told my boss we've got to do something,” she said. “It breaks my heart that this man is going to be forgotten and won't be able to live in his own house for the rest of his days.”