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Merryfield Construction Company donated a new roof to a Gloucester City family facing a serious cancer diagnosis. Carly Q. Romalino

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GLOUCESTER CITY - Helen Witcraft and her teenage son Evan stood on the sidewalk in front of their Walnut Avenue house. The pair watched a dozen men tear up roof shingles and drop them on the front lawn.

The crew – men in blue "Merryfield Cares" shirts – wheeled debris into a trash bin on the street and carried rolls of supplies up ladders onto the roof. The Merryfield Construction Group workers knew this was a special job.

It was an emotional morning, but not a sad one.

The commotion in the yard was a relief. The roof was one less burden for the family, dealing with Helen Witcraft's cancer diagnosis.

The mother and former Gloucester City schools teacher's aide was nominated by a friend to win a new roof installed by Merryfield. The award is the first-ever for Merryfield Cares, a company foundation created so Gloucester City-born brothers Lew and George Merryfield could give back to their neighborhoods.

"It's been a tough couple of years," Witcraft said, looking up at her house.

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Her story resonated with the Merryfield brothers, who narrowed entries to their contest to 15 finalists. Each entry deserved to win, George Merryfield explained. But Witcraft's connection to the brothers' hometown and its schools put her on the top of the list.

The Witcrafts were caring for Helen's mother with dementia for six years when Helen was diagnosed with lung cancer. Chemotherapy treatment took its toll on the mother of two – Evan, a Gloucester High sophomore, and Tyler, a college-bound Gloucester High grad. She needed to leave her job at Cold Springs School and quit side jobs working weekends at Pitman Manor nursing home and summers serving drinks at the former Susquehanna Bank Center. 

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In visits to the school to see her former students, they ask when she's coming back to class.

"They say, 'You look fine, why can't you come back?'" Witcraft said, smiling.

She doesn't often reveal how advanced her cancer is. She's now on a new immunotherapy treatment at the University of Pennsylvania.

"I said to George and Lew, 'There are more deserving people. When I go to the hospital, there are sicker people,'" Witcraft said. 

"I feel very overwhelmed. I'm excited."

The roof repairs had been on the top of the list for Helen and her husband, Bert. Every storm, Evan said, shingles would be on the lawn.

"It's definitely past due for their roof," Lew Merryfield said.

"They're very worthy of the giveaway."

Carly Q. Romalino; (856) 486-2476; cromalino@gannettnj.com

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