LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Sam Virga and his long-time girlfriend Betty White are trying to hold onto hope. But it's hard.
"That's all we got to live on is hope and prayer. And believe me, I pray every night whether it does any help or not," White said as her voice trailed off into tears.
"It's like someone has taken a sledgehammer to me and knocked me down really, really bad," Sam said. "That's how I feel at times."
Now a group of regular folks, carpenters and union workers mostly, are trying to take that faith and turn it into a Christmas miracle.
"Sam's a ... veteran, an older guy. He's living in a shed. And we have a moral obligation to help this guy," Bradley Silveria, the president of Carpenters Union Local 2501, said.
It was October 2015 when WAVE 3 News first reported on the Virgas' home repair nightmare. They paid a company called Skyshield Restoration $15,000 in insurance money to do emergency flood restoration on their flooded Okolona home. They said Skyshield owner Jacob Blanton verbally agreed to use additional insurance money, once it came in, to lift and restore the Virgas' home. After accepting the initial $15,000 payment, Blanton estimated the total project would cost more than $194,000.
The Virgas said they immediately told Blanton the house was not worth $194,000, and there was no way insurance and flood relief money would total that amount. They said Blanton told them not to worry, and that he would work with the insurance company to get the necessary funds to finish the job.
But when the additional insurance money came through, it totaled an additional $38,000, far less than Skyshield said was required to do the work the Virgas needed. The Virgas told Blanton they didn't have the money to make up the difference, and that's when they say Blanton and Skyshield walked off the job. The Virgas say their home was in shambles with ripped out walls, exposed electrical work and piles of debris throughout.
At the time the original story aired, Jacob Blanton denied agreeing to complete the repairs as the Virgas claim. Blanton told WAVE 3 News the original contract was for emergency services only, and that he never signed an actual agreement to lift and restore the Virgas' home.
"I don't understand who in their right mind would take and do a person this way," White said. "I mean, come and and say they are going to do the house and take their money, and just walk away. It's not right. I wouldn't wish this on an enemy, if I had an enemy."
With their home now uninhabitable, Sam and Betty find themselves living in a tiny, 14' x 14' foot shed on their property.
"I mean, it's a roof over our head," White said. "It's better than in the ditch or in the barn."
A small bed and two chairs are jammed inside. They keep their clothes in a standing garment bag. Their food is on a plywood shelf.
"And this is my bath," Virga said, pointing to a small, white bucket. The couple pours water into it to wash up. Their toilet is a port-a-pot hidden behind a shower curtain outside their front door.
"Look where we're living," Virga said. "From a man who didn't do what he was supposed to do."
The situation on the Virgas' property has gotten so bad, the city has received complaints about the deteriorating conditions. When Louisville Metro Code Enforcement officer Lynn Witt arrived on the scene, she was stunned.
"I just couldn't believe they were living this way, and they couldn't get any help," Witt said. "And so I reached out to anybody I could think of, and the carpenters union, they stepped up."
Silveria said he went to the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council Meeting and talked to the Louisville Metro United Way about the Virgas' situation.
"We're all combining our resources, and we're trying everything we can to come up with the resources to help," Silveria said, adding that their ultimate goal is to put Sam and Betty in a new home.
That starts with demolishing the old home, which contractors say is in such bad shape, it would be more expensive to repair than to replace.
Joe Phelps, Vice President of Labor Services for Metro United Way, said the agency is now coordinating the effort. Phelps said he can get commitments from carpenters, roofers, electricians and plumbers to donate the labor to do the work that's required.
"We can knock this project out before the weather gets too bad," Phelps said.
But the makeshift relief team may be missing the most important piece of the puzzle: supplies, the materials needed to actually build Sam and Betty a new home.
"That's the big goal right now," Phelps said.
The United Way and Carpenters Union is hoping someone will see this story and offer a solution to finding those materials or the money to buy them.
"They need a place to live," Silveria said. "A veteran, he's earned his right not to live in a shed."
And to celebrate holidays like Christmas, a time of joy for so many, robbed of its happiness for Sam and Betty.
"It's just another day now," White said. "It has been for over a year."