Helping friends recover from a fire?
December 14, 2004 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Some friends lost absolutely everything in a house fire, and I'd like to help them out somehow. [+]

It's a single mom and her three kids. For a variety of reasons, they had no renters insurance, so they were left with nothing salvagable save the washer and dryer (protected in the basement) and have had to try to rebuild their lives on the mom's meager income from disability. They've got a bunch of (secondhand) furniture and household stuff, and lots of hand-me-down clothes, but the kids lost all of their books and toys (stuff that doesn't seem important but is pretty crucial when you're 8 or 9) and there's no money for Christmas presents.

I've set up an Amazon wishlist for the family and I've blogged about that, but I'd like to find other resources that might be able to help. The Salvation Army and Red Cross seem to be tapped out, given the season, but I know that there must be other organizations which could help a family in this situation.

Anyone have any other ideas?
posted by Dreama to Human Relations (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Toys For Tots and other local programs always have drives to give kids christmas presents. If they're really living only on their mom's disability income, I would imagine they'd qualify not only this year, but since whenever that started.
posted by u.n. owen at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2004

Is there a local TV station you could call that might publicize the plight of this family? I don't mean to be crass, but *every* local news show seems to carry such a story during the holiday season, If you can get them interested, try to get them to publicize the existence of an account to which donations can be directed.

If you or they are involved with a church, you might also consider approaching the clergy or whoever handles such matters.
posted by stonerose at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2004

also...ok, this is going to sound like a godawful question but...

Do you know this woman in person? I ask because a month or so ago, someone with a story remarkably like this - which then spiraled even further into "oh my god awful" territory - was posted on my local freecycle list. The woman turned out to be a scammer who'd been using the stuff people gave her for drug money.

I know this is probably on the up-and-up but a LOT of people on my freecycle list were taken for a ride to the tune of hundreds of dollars so I just want to make sure.
posted by u.n. owen at 1:57 PM on December 14, 2004

Most local police & fire departments have some sort of toy drive for families in need.
posted by whatnot at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2004

Response by poster: The story is absolutely on the up-and-up, I'm just trying to find as many sources to try to "fix" things for them, to some extent, as possible. I do know the family, before the mom was disabled she worked with my mom, and the kids call my mom "Granny." They also attend the same church as my mom, which has been the source for the secondhand furnishings, etc. as well as a small but generous -- for the size of the congregation -- cash offering. That well, however, has run dry.

I was at the family's new (rented) house yesterday and saw firsthand how little they had, especially in terms of things that were just the kids'. I've purchased some things for them, new winter gear for the smaller kids (couldn't find a coat for the teenager) some kitchenware and linens for the kids' beds, but my dollars can only go so far, and there is still such a need for everyday things rather than holiday things, that I'd hoped to find more ideas, especially to help with Christmas for the kids, because as much as they appreciate having dishes to eat from, they could use some things to read and play with, too.
posted by Dreama at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2004

I would also suggest calling your local United Way. They might be familiar with organizations that would be willing to help.
posted by stonerose at 2:28 PM on December 14, 2004

Ok, cool. I was worried for a minute that even the same scammer might strike again.

Every paper needs a story like this at christmas time. Have them join the local freecycle list and the one for the nearest major city if you're not already in one. If you know someone with a pickup truck who could get them stuff from the nearest metro city that was freecycled, that'd be good.

Where is the father? Deadbeat, or dead, or what? If he's not paying child support they need to go after him NOW, not later.
posted by u.n. owen at 2:28 PM on December 14, 2004

The organization One Warm Coat organizes coat drives for needy folks -- perhaps there's been a drive in your area recently which could help supply a coat for the teenager.

As for books, I wonder if your local library could be approached -- perhaps they have books they've taken out of circulation recently, and they might be available either for free or for a small cost? (This is just off the top of my head -- maybe some of our fabulous MeFiLibrarians can say if this is really an option.) Also, I often see some books on Amazon available used really cheap -- even if shipping runs a couple of bucks each, you could still get 5 or 6 books for maybe 10 or 15 bucks...?

On preview:
Where is the father? Deadbeat, or dead, or what? If he's not paying child support they need to go after him NOW, not later.
u.n. owen, be that as it may (or may not), it's not what Dreama's asking, not to mention not something that's her job to take care of, nor likely something the mom is capable of dealing with NOW -- you know, given that her house just burned down right before the winter holidays and all.

posted by scody at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2004

If you know them reasonably well (and their friends/family), organise to get copies made of photos that other people have taken of the family and make up a photo album for them.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:50 PM on December 14, 2004

Response by poster: The father, just for the record, was an abusive ass whose last hurrah of violence is why the mom is now on disability rather than working at the job which would've rendered this whole situation unfortunate, but not nearly as tragic as it has turned out to be. He was in prison for what he did to her, I don't know if he's out now or what, but he is and must stay, permanently and forever and ever amen, out of the picture.

The suggestions are terrific, btw. Thank you all. Keep 'em coming! I'm making a list. (And checking it twice!)
posted by Dreama at 3:01 PM on December 14, 2004

A lot of really great suggestions, and all of them very worth doing to help meet their immediate and middle range needs. I don't have much more to add myself except that I would strongly second doing what AnnaRat says if it's within your power to do so. Any recoverable treasures, such as photos, that can be regained through copies are always cherished.
posted by safetyfork at 3:03 PM on December 14, 2004

Is there a Catholic Charities in your town? That is a good organization that does donation work. I would also suggest contacting the biggest, most known churches in your town, i.e. the catholic basilica, etc. Churches do big donation drives at this time of year and typically (at least for the catholic diocese in my town) does not care whether the donee is a member of that church or not. Don't forget synagogs either.

And then of course there's the Mighty Mefis who may want to chip in and buy a teenager a coat for the winter..... just a thought.
posted by Juicylicious at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2004

How about if Metafilter members set up a fund to help? All this banter should finally be focused upon something noble, no?
posted by ParisParamus at 3:23 PM on December 14, 2004

A fund is a great idea. I can't believe I'm agreeing with ParisParamus about something -- 'tis the season of miracles, I guess! ;) Let's put the popularity of AskMe to good use, fellow MeFites (and MeLurkers)!
posted by scody at 3:49 PM on December 14, 2004

dropcash! dropcash! dropcash! i'd love to contribute to a fund.
posted by heather at 3:53 PM on December 14, 2004

Of course, there's always the Amazon wishlist too that Dreama mentions. (Dreama, I see on your blog that you were having problems with Amazon getting it set up though -- do you think it's sorted out now?) Either way, count me in.
posted by scody at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2004

A set of Pyrex dishes is on its way to them.

And yes, I am posting this here to start a "who can give MORE?" all-out Amazon wishlist/MeFi fund extravaganza.
posted by stefnet at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2004

This is a cool thread. Someone ought to ask Matt to link on the front page with their Amazon wish list or something.
posted by xmutex at 4:02 PM on December 14, 2004

Amazon wishlist items disappear from the list when you buy them, right?
posted by xmutex at 4:13 PM on December 14, 2004

Suggestion? Maybe we should get the info for the amazon list by email from the poster instead of using MeFi or AskMe directly, to avoid setting off a flurry of similar posts (even as legitimate and heartbreaking as this one).
posted by availablelight at 4:14 PM on December 14, 2004

I just selected some kids' books from the wishlist that were favorites of mine when I was young. I just wanted to make sure you know that all of the 3rd-party vendor items you selected (Target, ToysRUs, etc.) will have problems sending to the wish list address unless you specify in specific that you want the address to be able to be shared with 3rd party vendors. Good luck to your friend and her family!
posted by matildaben at 4:19 PM on December 14, 2004

This is amazing.
posted by stray at 4:34 PM on December 14, 2004

I also chose books that I loved as a kid! And yes, make sure you've checked the box to share the address with 3rd party suppliers (as matildaben mentioned.)
posted by fionab at 4:47 PM on December 14, 2004

Sorry for being stupid, but how does one tell which of those items have been bought already?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:24 PM on December 14, 2004

If you know them reasonably well (and their friends/family), organise to get copies made of photos that other people have taken of the family and make up a photo album for them.

That brought a tear to my eye. (That's not a joke or anything.. I actually did cry a little.)

I need to get my hands on a credit card.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:36 PM on December 14, 2004

PP- at the bottom of each item listing it lists Desired, Priority and Received.
posted by wallaby at 8:37 PM on December 14, 2004

ParisParamus - the main Wishlist is automatically updated to show only those items which are still needed; at the top of the page, there is also a link to show already purchased items. It is my understanding that the link for a gift certificate from this page will allow you to go that route - I suppose Dreama could then select whatever items were most in need based on the selection of gifts which had not yet been purchased.
posted by fionab at 8:46 PM on December 14, 2004

Response by poster: Folks, I can't tell you how amazing you all are. If you're inclined to send things that aren't Amazonable, please e-mail me (there's an address in my profile, or you could use the contact form[s] on my site) and I can pass along Karen's address. A few people have already e-mailed me and have actually sent cash via Paypal, and I'll be taking Karen and her oldest son out tomorrow and using that money to get him a winter coat, now that we've located one in his size. (A big size, the kid was an all-state nose tackle this season.)

You all really have shaken my rampant cynicism to its pathetic core.
posted by Dreama at 8:49 PM on December 14, 2004

One last thing to add, although others pretty much have it covered: Check out the Free section of your local Craigslist. I'm sure people would be glad to give them their unneededs, especially this time of year.
posted by tinamonster at 9:16 PM on December 14, 2004

Tomorrow morning I'd buy some kitchen-related item (Verizon DSL is down in 718, and web site purchases via dial-up modem...oy).
posted by ParisParamus at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2004

Merry Xmas.
posted by seanyboy at 2:41 AM on December 15, 2004

A coat and a book are on their way. The cynical side of me is thinking there's a million stories like this but the practical side realizes we can't help them all. I'm glad I can help just a little bit. You're a good person for helping out. I hope karma is real.
posted by bondcliff at 7:08 AM on December 15, 2004

Response by poster: I'm sitting with the family now, and I just showed the daughter the coat that's coming to her, and she started to cry. You folks have no idea what kind of good you've done for this family. Again, thank you all. This wasn't expected, and it is appreciated in ways that cannot be described.
posted by Dreama at 7:28 AM on December 15, 2004

Merry Xmas! I hope the presents they receive give them hope for the future. You're a good person, Dreama.
posted by widdershins at 8:29 AM on December 15, 2004

The Little House set is on its way. (I can't imagine my childhood without those books!)
posted by scody at 10:22 AM on December 15, 2004

The Spiderman sleep set reminds me of my nephew and made me smile when I saw it. Hope they like it as much as my nephew likes his!
posted by KathyK at 10:32 AM on December 15, 2004

I hope karma is real.
I'd say Dreama is actually cashing in some mefi-swap-derived karma.
posted by signal at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2004

The Amazon site hiccuped a few times along the way, but I sent some of the kitchen stuff their way. Thanks for taking the time to set this up Dreama.
posted by turbodog at 1:31 PM on December 15, 2004

Dreama, you are an amazing friend for doing this for that family. I think the idea of contacting a local newspaper is a good one. Columnists especially love to write about such stories around the holiday season, and readers usually respond well.

I am not sure where you live, but if there is a Jaycee chapter in town, I'd recommend contacting them. Jaycees are very much about serving the local community, and I know my chapter has done several Adopt-a-Family type projects.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2004

For me, It's all mefi-swap related karma.
On a more practical note, the "Bratz Tokyo-A-Go Go! Collection - Yasmin" has been ordered, and yet does not appear on the ordered items list. If you can remove this, that'd be fantastic.
posted by seanyboy at 4:11 PM on December 15, 2004

Response by poster: Some contacts were made today. The oldest son's football team took up a collection, unbeknowst to anyone, and after school the coach took him out and supplemented the collection so that in the end, $350 worth of clothes, winter boots and a coat were purchased.

The neighbors from street where the house burned bought the kids a Nintendo and a bunch of games, which will be from Santa.

Toys for Tots has added the small kids' names to their list and something is coming their way from that venerable program. The library is hurting for books, but when I told the librarians at our local branch, they personally bought some books from the wishlist, because they know the kids and how they love books. The family's new next door neighbor (who happens to be my cousin's ex-wife) has given Karen a whole closet full of clothes that she's given up on ever dieting her way back into.

You have all been amazingly generous, and the pile of Amazon packages is going to blow the family's minds. On their behalf I thank you all so very very much. Just, wow, thank you.
posted by Dreama at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2004

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