The newest family on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is a family who has already given everything to serve Sussex County.
Television host Ty Pennington rolled into Delaware on an extremely orange bus Monday, Aug. 22, to surprise the Rev. Dale Dunning at her soup kitchen ministry, Jusst Sooup. The ABC television show builds new homes for people who have experienced some hardship.
At Rehoboth Presbyterian Church this week, Dunning said she felt, “overjoyed, very excited … and grateful.”
“We were just doing soup kitchen as usual and just wondering if Ty would stop by, and, of course, he did!” Dunning recalled. “It was just an overwhelming joy.”
Builders Schell Brothers nominated Dunning for the show and will build the Jusst Sooup Ranch in the Cool Spring area on Route 9, approximately 4.4 miles from Route 1.
“It’s almost impossible to live in this area without hearing about Jusst Sooup,” said company founder Chris Schell. “Everybody in our area pretty much knows Dale because what she does is so amazing, and to do that completely selflessly, to help so many people, is just incredible.”
Without giving too much away, Schell said, “We want to provide them with the facilities and equipment they need to continue doing what they’re doing and do it on an even bigger scale if they want to.”
The show’s executive producer, George Verschoor, said this “extraordinary” episode will be a Thanksgiving special on ABC’s fall schedule – “Something that would represent the spirit of Thanksgiving and giving back and gratitude. I just think the Dunning family has all that and more. … It’s Thanksgiving for her every day.”
Serving the community
Dunning is determined to put a dent in hunger with Jusst Sooup.
She began cooking 12 years ago with one pot and hot plate. After becoming ordained, she realized that homelessness is also a local problem and founded Jusst Sooup.
Dunning cooks at home, waking daily at 1 a.m. to prepare. Her husband, Ken, and son, Brooks, help Dunning to transport and serve soup at different locations.
Their current three-bedroom home has very limited space, Dunning said. The living room and garage are full of soup pots and supplies. Her bedroom doubles as an office, and the kitchen has limited counter space.
“A new home with a commercial kitchen would be great. I was making 950 … to 1,000 quarts of soup a week on a four-burner stove,” Dunning said. “Just think of what you can do on a 10- or 12-burner stove.”
The Dunnings have experienced financial hardship and were even briefly homeless themselves. Ken Dunning now works three jobs to support the family and, by extension, the many clients of Jusst Sooup.
Schell Brothers donated the Route 9 property to Dunning in December. Schell said they wanted the market to improve so they could afford building her a house. Meanwhile, an employee suggested they contact “Extreme Makeover.”
Two weeks later, Schell Brothers met “Extreme” representatives, and the dream approached reality.
“We saw the Schell Brothers had not only the infrastructure and company that we needed, but also the support of the community was there,” said Verschoor. “That was a huge part of our decision.”
“The community support was already pretty phenomenal, but you could see a market difference when people found out it was Dale and Jusst Sooup,” Schell said. “Apparently, everybody loves Dale, because there has been a major turn and different feeling since people found out who it was.”
Schell and Verschoor mentioned the excitement of seeing and helping someone who helps others.
“By helping Dale, we actually end up helping so many other families, because of what she does for everyone,” Schell said.
Community gives back
Within three weeks of the announcement of a Sussex County edition of the show, the community had donated all of the money needed for construction, and the excess funds will be given to the family.
There will also be 25 kilowatts of solar power onsite, so environmentally-friendly energy will save the Dunnings even more money. Schell said the house will be very close to net-zero energy use.
However, there has still been some concern over the project in the long term, based on the fact that some families featured on the show have faced foreclosure after the build is complete. After the community spends the lump sum for the construction, the usually low-income family that receives it may be unable to pay the resulting increased property taxes, utility bills and upkeep.
Thus, Schell said, the goal is to develop an endowment that pays all the Dunnings’ bills continuously. He estimated that another $100,000 is needed to reach that endowment goal. He said they need a few big donors to complete the mission:
“What we really need are companies that have done well in the area and have benefited from having their businesses in this area.”
The build itself is a huge task, but major paperwork is flowing behind the scenes.
Sussex County building inspectors are closely monitoring the project, explained Chip Guy, public information officer for the County.
“Usually, it takes four months to build a house, and they’re compressing it into four, five days,” Guy said. “They still have to follow the building code. They still have to meet their marks, according to the code. And they have to be quiet.”
Many government agencies will play a role. The State must check electrical work. The Delaware Department of Transportation handles road closures. State police patrol the area. Emergency Medical Services has an outpost on-site, in case of injuries or illness, and the County grants permits.
After the “Extreme” revelation at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the first batch of volunteers arrived at the building site around 3 p.m. They were corralled for the first shot: a wild, iconic, “Braveheart”-style run onto the empty lot. As cameras rolled, a hoard of blue-shirted volunteers surrounded the Dunnings as Pennington revved them up for the 24/7 project.
Drivers on Route 9 slowed, honked and waved throughout filming.
According to press releases, the Dunnings were to spend the week of the construction on vacation, returning in time for the big reveal on Monday, Aug. 29.
“We’ve got a great team,” Schell said. “We’ll get it done.”
Parking is not allowed on Route 9, so all spectators and volunteers must use the shuttle from Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes. The project has been reported to have reached capacity for volunteers in a matter of hours, with hundreds of additional volunteers having been turned away. Donations of funds for the endowment and supplies for the volunteers were still being accepted early this week.