A Blessing on Her Life: Volunteers Transform West Augustine Home

Volunteers from St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Orange Park work on the Bing home as part of the church’s Urban Plunge project. Volunteers with Urban Plunge have been coming to St. Augustine to perform a variety of tasks for the elderly and disabled for the past 27 years. Photos by ANNE HEYMEN, anne.heymen@staugustine.com

Mellerlee Bing’s Cathedral Place home in West Augustine was a beehive of activity one sultry Friday afternoon in mid-July.

Vehicles filled the dead-end street as additional diesel-powered trucks chugged down the tiny road, jockeying for a parking place. In the meantime, people were scurrying like little ants around the tiny lot one block off West King Street, performing all kinds of duties.

“Boys, move off the steps,” Mary Mullin, a volunteer with St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, Orange Park, called to a group of young men, poised on ladders and applying a butterscotch-colored paint to brand-new siding. The siding was made possible through the St. Johns Housing Partnership, SHIP (The State Health Insurance Program) and the Sertoma Club of St. Augustine.

The young men were being asked to make room for two burly men shouldering a new water heater. It was destined for something Bing had never before enjoyed in her tiny home – a bathroom with more than just a commode. It will heat not only the facilities in the renovated bathroom, but also water in the tiny home’s kitchen.

“This is the first house I came to,” Robin Shipley recalled of her first experience with St. Catherine’s Urban Plunge four years ago. “I came here,” she says of Bing’s home, “and she had a pan of water in the kitchen sink.” She had no running water in the kitchen.

Malea Guiriba, who works with the housing partnership, noted that Bing “bathes, cooks and washes dishes from water in two well-worn five-gallon containers” she keeps by the back door.

Bing, 76, sees all the changes to her house as “beautiful, beautiful.”

“It’s a blessing to my life,” she said.

Bing said she has managed for years raising a family without modern conveniences. “Well, you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got,” she said.

Bing, widow of Harold Bing, who worked in the pulp industry, raised seven children, two of whom survive today. Harold Bing Jr. – “that’s my baby” – lives with her.

She has lived for more than 40 years in the West Cathedral Place home her father built in 1925, says Guiriba.

“The 600 foot square foot home teeters on cinder blocks and tilts in several places,” Guiriba wrote in a prepared statement. “When you walk up on the porch, she tells visitors where to step so they don’t fall through the rotting or non-existent boards.”