It all started with one little crack in the ceiling.

Within a couple of hours, the little crack moved halfway across the room.

The next thing Martina Sangster knew — kaboom! The ceiling was on the floor.

“I started yelling, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’” Sangster said. “I said, ‘Get a ladder!’ We got a ladder, and I said, ‘What are we going to do with this ladder?’”

Sangster can laugh about it now, thanks to the generosity of strangers and Wish List Quad-Cities.

When the entire ceiling in her living room, dining room and entryway collapsed to the floor last November, sending sheetrock and insulation everywhere, laughter was as elusive as the money to fix it.

“It looked like a bomb went off,” said Sangster, who shares her East Moline home with her son, daughter and brother. “I called the insurance company, and they said we couldn’t stay at the house. They told us to go to a hotel and to keep all our receipts, because my homeowner’s insurance would cover it all.”

It didn’t turn out that way.

“An adjuster came and looked at it and said it wasn’t caused by critters or by weather, and the insurance company asked if there was a roof leak,” she said. “There had been a leak in 1998, and my father replaced the roof.

“The drywall that fell wasn’t wet, so there was no recent leak. At any rate, it wasn’t covered by insurance.”

The collapse occurred the Friday before Thanksgiving, and the family stayed in a hotel for about a week, costing Sangster more than $700. Mercifully, she had no idea her family would have to live with the cold and the mess for two full months.

Her pay from her part-time job as a school bus driver, along with her daughter’s income from The Arc of the Quad-Cities, would not go far enough to cover at least $1,500 in ceiling repairs. So, they simply lived with it, piling the fallen insulation into three dozen garbage bags and cleaning up plaster dust as best they could.

Meanwhile, Sangster prayed.

The second Thanksgiving and Christmas since her dad died had been difficult enough, but there were family health issues, too. She did the best she could, buying tarps and duct tape and using them to cover the two-room view of the underside of her roof.

“My nephew was pricing materials, and we were looking at how long we’d have to save a little from each of our paychecks to get it fixed,” Sangster said. “I was counting the days until the time tax refunds would come.

“Then, one day, I found the cordless phone that had been buried under the furniture we moved. I picked it up, and it had one message on it. The message was from Joshua Schipp.”

Her prayers were answered.

Schipp is the AFL-CIO community services liaison for United Way of the Quad-Cities Area. And the United Way is a partner with the Quad-City Times in the Wish List Quad-Cities program.

When Sangster’s daughter, also named Martina, told her boss about the ceiling at home, her family was nominated for Wish List.

“Martina is an awesome person, and last year was rough for her,” said Mirielle Popp, store manager for Arc’s Base Supply Center at the Rock Island Arsenal. “I just tried gathering up ideas for helping the family.”

It worked.

And Schipp took over from there.

“Whether it’s through the Quad-City Times Wish List or individuals, I’m responsible for searching out projects to help the local labor organizations make good on their commitment to doing good things in their community,” he said. “I generally begin by going to the monthly meetings of the Quad-City Federation of Labor and explaining the situation.

“I’ll often send out emails to all 1,400 union members, asking for donations of their skills.”

In the case of the Sangster family, Schipp’s first pitch did the trick.

“Quintin (Waterman), from the Laborers Local 309, was right on my heels after the meeting was over,” he said. “The same went for the painters (Local 18). They were on it right away.”

Waterman said he heard Schipp’s pitch and instantly knew he had to respond.

“I’ve always been very blessed in my life,” he said. “God has always been very good to me. That’s why I like to give back.

“Our unions expect our community to support us. It’s only right that we support our community. I also think it’s what God wants us to do.”

Others in his union, where he serves as president, were right behind him.

“I called a few guys, and not a one of ’em told me no,” he said.

The next stop was Lowe’s — to call on a retired member of Local 309.

“His name is Denny Newell,” Waterman said. “I asked what Lowe’s could do for the materials, and he gave me an answer the next day. Lowe’s donated everything.”

Sangster was stunned. Not only was her home being repaired by professionals who were donating their time, but the materials to fix it also were part of the deal.

That wasn’t all.

On the first evening of work at the Sangster home, Waterman asked for a vacuum to clean the carpet where his crew had been working. But the family’s vacuum had recently stopped working, and the money was not there for a replacement.

“That beautiful man (Waterman) left the house, and when he came back, he had a brand new sweeper,” she recalled through tears. “He said, ‘I found this alongside the road.’

“Of course, I knew it wasn’t true. Isn’t that something? I couldn’t believe there have been so many here, donating their time. I was the one always giving what I could, dropping a couple of dollars into the kettle or giving to this or that.

“I never thought I’d be the one needing help. I prayed on this blessing. I think these people will get into heaven with golden wings.”