LUTZ, Fla. - From ruins to restoration, a disabled veteran is getting a much needed helping hand. Code violations were piling up but the Vietnam War Vet has been physically unable to fix up his home, until the county stepped in to help.
Perfect strangers crowded a front yard at Orangewood Drive in Lutz. The sounds of hard work ringing loudly in the neighborhood as Todd Winton, homeowner and Army veteran, looked on. More than 30 volunteers mowing, picking up junk and fixing up Winton's home. It's all part of Operation Code Vet. The program was just launched in May of this year. It's purpose is to help vets avoid code enforcement violations.
“It piled up and I just couldn’t keep taking care of the yard plus making a living, it just got out of hand," said Winton.
But after a few complaints, the county came knocking on his door.
“Code enforcement came after me and I already knew it was going to happen," said Winton of what started off as a nerve-wrecking encounter. However, instead of asking him to pay up, Hillsborough County Code Enforcement offered to pitch in.
Because of the hard work of 30 volunteers, Winton could be avoiding up to $1,000 in fines per day.
“You have no idea how awesome—I’m so honored right now," said Christine Zien-McCombs. She not only works for Code Enforcement but she started Operation Code Vet. Plus, with a husband in the military, she understands a little more than others. That’s why her program has helped nearly 10 local veterans like Winton.
“These are our heroes," she said, "This isn’t fair. Just because they got older and they let it slip away doesn’t mean they should get stuck with this.”
But asking for help, she came to find out, is not always the easiest for vets.
“I think they are very embarrassed at first which is why I think they end up with the code violations," she said.
Winton is shocked at the change of culture, like night and day compared to 50 years ago.
“I was in my uniform and they were calling me baby killer and spitting on me," he recalled.
Now, perfect strangers are crowding his yard. They're sharing his burden and refusing to let him carry it alone.
“All of them are shocked. They can’t believe that people want to help them who they don’t know," said Zien-McCombs.