CLAYTON -- After four families’ homes were devastated in an apartment fire Sept. 24, an outpouring of support from the Clayton community has helped some to begin rebuilding their lives.
While the fire department used to serve as a dropping off point for donations to families in crisis, the department and its responsibilities have grown over the years, leaving a void for people interested in donating items directly to a cause.
The Red Cross responded to the incident, settling the families into hotels until they could find new places to live, and they invited community members to donate to the organization. But the Red Cross is an international fund, and donations wouldn’t necessarily reach the Clayton families.
“It was Clayton people wanting to help Clayton people, knowing that at times when you donate to a large organization it doesn’t go exactly where you want it to go,” said Stacy Beard, public information officer for the town.
With no formal way to reach the families and find out what they needed, Beard stepped in to help connect people interested in helping with the victims of the fire.
“We can’t be the collection agency, but if we can help connect people up like this, it’s worth our while as a town to help connect this community like that,” Beard said.
Gathering the troops
When Amy Polk found out that one of the families affected by the fire had a 10-month old, she got in touch with Beard to see how she could help. Beard connected Polk to the Haynes family, and Polk has since been rallying other moms with young children to donate their used baby clothing, blankets and toys.
The group made at least three deliveries to the family’s hotel, bringing everything from two weeks worth of clothes to diapers, wipes and formula.
“I knew being that I have a two and a half year old, and a lot of my friends have young children, that we would have everything that that kid would need right now at this second. We wouldn’t have to buy it, we wouldn’t have to find it. We had it in our houses and we were done with it,” Polk said.
Now that the Haynes have found a new house to rent, Polk and her team also delivered baby furniture and accessories to furnish and decorate the baby’s new nursery. Again, people still had cribs and other nursery furniture and accessories in storage.
“My hope is that this family will just pass it on when they’re done with it,” Polk said.
When her church, Amelia Christian Church, found about her and other moms’ efforts to help the family, others pitched in by buying gift cards from their after-church lunch spots to give to the family.
Serve the Need of Johnston County also contacted Beard, and began helping to provide clothing and other lost goods to a single woman whose apartment was also damaged in the fire.
On Saturday, the Woman’s Club of Clayton held a donation drive to collect goods for all the families affected by the fire.
Chris Hill, a member of the Woman’s Club, said the club has been involved in helping families in crisis going as far back as the 1940s, when the women sent food and donations to member Sybil Champion’s family in England, where goods were being rationed during the war.
As for the town, Beard said it’s been a valuable learning experience coordinating all the efforts of the various groups and individuals looking to help. Now, she’ll be able to keep a database of groups able and willing to help out in future crises.
“Now we know about this existing network,” Beard said. “They’re out there, it’s a matter of connecting them up.”