Six years after a tree fell from an empty lot into Linda Smalley’s backyard, crushing her fence and damaging her deck, the Germantown homeowner watched in awe and relief Wednesday as a crew cut apart the tree that had held her yard hostage and hauled away the pieces . A woman she’s never met covered the cost.
“I am so full of joy today,” Smalley said Wednesday. “I could dance a jig, okay? And I know my back won’t let me.”
Smalley, who hasn’t been able to work since a vehicle accident a few years ago left her with injuries to her back and arm, had reached out to state and city elected officials and city departments for years to ask for help. She got nowhere. She couldn’t reach the owner of the empty lot, who city officials said was responsible for the damage.
» READ MORE: Six years after a tree fell in her yard from a vacant lot, this Germantown homeowner still can’t get help to remove it
Then, in mid-June, The Inquirer published an article about her saga. Emails poured in from readers across the region who were touched and outraged by her story. Some offered to pay to remove the tree. Others said they couldn’t afford the entire cost but wanted to contribute. A few offered to take a chainsaw to the tree themselves. A group of women that runs a small charity and a Chinatown nonprofit wanted to know what they could do. In all, 22 people reached out to help Smalley.
When she heard about the response, “I just cried,” said Smalley, a 63-year-old lifelong Philadelphian who was considering leaving the city because of her ordeal.
“I’ll tell you one thing: It reaffirms there’s hope for humanity,” she said. “They can say what they want about Philadelphia. There’s some good people.”
Less than an hour and a half after The Inquirer published the story online, a woman in her 70s reached out to a reporter and said she wanted — without publicity — to pay to remove the tree and repair Smalley’s deck. Part one happened Wednesday. Now, the woman is searching for a contractor to fix the broken planks and stairs of Smalley’s deck.
Smalley gets emotional when she thinks “that a total stranger was willing to do this for me,” she said.
“It’s like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I can see a light at the end of the tunnel that I’m gonna be able to use my yard. I’m gonna be able to sit in the back.”
Without the article and readers’ response, Smalley said, she has no doubt that tree would still be lying in her yard.
» READ MORE: Who’s responsible for this tree? Philly tree rules, and what to do when a tree is a problem
“It takes the kindness of strangers,” she said. “There’s no way in the world I could have ever afforded to get that tree up.”
She said it’s a shame that she had to rely on strangers instead of help or at least guidance from politicians for whom she voted. A staffer for a state representative Smalley hadn’t tried calling did contact The Inquirer a few days ago to see whether the office could help.
A local construction company that specializes in stucco repair is even paying to cut down a tall tree in Smalley’s backyard with branches that nearly touch the window of a back bedroom. Smalley fears it will fall.
Rosane Mendes, general manager of McDermott Construction based in Malvern, read the story last month and shared it with the company’s owner, Andy McDermott, who she said directs employees to try to find and help people who can’t afford to pay for services. The company operates in Philadelphia and surrounding counties.
“I just got really touched by Ms. Linda’s story,” Mendes said. “We were ready to take care of everything, but Ms. Linda told us she found someone to help as well.”
Mendes is directing the company’s landscaper to cut down the tree in Smalley’s backyard this month. Smalley is right to worry about it, she said. The tree is skinny but tall and will only keep growing. So it’s good she’s being proactive, Mendes said. Especially, she said, since “she has experience in not getting any help.”
Now that the fallen tree is gone, Smalley has been able to see the full extent of the damage to her fence. She plans to get to that when she can.
For now, she said she can’t wait to tell her church family at Greater Impact Worship Center in North Philadelphia on Sunday about “this blessing.”
“Tell me,” she said, “God ain’t good.”