BURRILLVILLE – It was a massive turnout on Christmas Eve day at a drive to help three families displaced by a fire just days before the holiday.
Cars lined up by the central office at Burrillville Middle School to drop off donations of gift cards and cash totaling more than $17,000 to help the victims, whose homes were destroyed by a fire on East Avenue on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
The office, which would have normally been closed for vacation just before Christmas, was packed with new toys, clothing, household goods, toiletries and more.
Members of the Harrisville Fire Department worked with school Supt. Michael Sollitto to organize the event, which benefitted five children in the Burrillville school system who lived in the multifamily building and their parents.
Town-based non-profit Between the Cracks is working to coordinate delivery to the families.
And it was just the start of what was, by all accounts, a touching regional effort to help.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Terri Lacey, a member of the Burrillville School Committee who has worked with Between the Cracks for some 25 years.
Chepachet resident Erin Hopkins Moniz took up a collection and delivered $750 to each household. Santa and his helper Nicole Hoyt Martin took in goods at the Harrisville gazebo Christmas Eve, delivering more cash, wrapped presents, gift cards and winter coats. Another group in Maine organized a raffle, raising more than $1,000.
“Truly humbled by the amount of community support that I witnessed today,” Sollitto noted on Thursday. “This is what the holiday season is all about.”
Firefighters rescued four cats and two guinea pigs from the blaze, and Burrillville Animal Control is now sheltering the pets.
“We will be caring for them until their family has a new place to live,” shelter officials noted. “We’re happy to help any way we can.”
Lacey noted that she, and Harrisville Fire Safety Officer and Town Councilor Amanda Gingell, met with the families on Tuesday, Dec. 29 to hand out items to meet their immediate needs. Sorting through the mass of donations has been a job all its own, and items are currently being stored at the VFW’s Binns building on Chapel Street.
Lacey said that people have also come forward with large items to help, such as beds, but currently, the families have no place to put things.
“What they really need now is a place to live,” she said.
Lacey said that one family needs a three bedroom apartment, and the second needs at least a two bedroom. The single woman who lived in the building is staying with family, and plans to take her time to find a place.
“The two families with the children both mentioned that they really wanted to stay in Burrillville because of the schools, teachers, and everything this town has done for them,” Lacey said.
Moniz said that she’s been storing many items for the families in her own home.
“I don’t have much space and it’s a lot to coordinate, so I’ve been working on cash donations for them,” she said.
Those who wish to make monetary donations through Moniz can do so online via Paypal.
Efforts to help the families will continue in the upcoming weeks. Lacey noted that if anyone has a larger piece of furniture that they are willing to donate, they should hang on to it and check back in a few weeks to see if they’ve found a place.
“They lost everything,” Lacey said.
She said she will also keep a list if larger items are expected, but she’s hopeful that with funds collected, the families will be able to purchase their own.
“We have plenty of money to give them,” Lacey said. “I’m surprised, but I’m not surprised when it comes to this town. People are just generous.”
“That’s Burrillville,” Lacey added. “That’s what we do here in this town. Right now, it’s just a matter of finding them a place.”