By Melyssa Gloude
(BELLEVILLE) Due to the aftermath of an accidental fire, two diligent women were inspired to bring together a community for the relief of two families devastated by the tragedy.
“I was at work when I found out,” said Danielle Boyce, 24 and her daughter, Ember Maracle, 5, occupied one of two apartments destroyed in an accidental blaze that began in the Grier Street home Jan. 3.
According to the official release from the Belleville Fire Department, at about 10:54 a.m., the property owners’ attempt to thaw frozen pipes with a high temperature heat gun ignited combustible material in the home, which was divided into two separate rental units. Due to the age and construction of the building, the blaze quickly spread to the attic and wall-space, leading to a fire that could not be extinguished until late into the evening.
The structural integrity of the building was compromised once the fire was extinguished and had to be torn down, according to the release. The final cost of damages was estimated at $200,000.
None of the occupants had purchased tenants’ insurance.
Boyce made it to the scene around noon.
“Once I knew no one got hurt, I just started laughing and crying hysterically. I couldn’t stop. It was terrible.”
Victim Services Belleville, an agency that specializes in family crisis, was soon on the scene and spoke to both families.
“Victim Services came and offered me a hotel for three days, but I refused because my parents had room for Ember and I.”
Enter Jennifer McKee and Tabitha Lowndes – two 24-year-old women who made it their mission (and their full-time jobs) to give back everything that had been taken away from the two families. McKee, who has known Boyce since grade school, immediately knew that she had to do anything she could to help.
“We barely even thought about it,” McKee said. “Somebody had to do something, but we weren’t going to wait for somebody else to get around to it.”
McKee and Lowndes tackled this task using the quickest medium available – social media.
“She (Danielle) was really overwhelmed, and we thought, ‘what’s something we can do to give her a little bit of space?’ The answer was that people could talk through us instead, until she was ready to accept the help. On her terms.”
“The first thought to pop into my head was Facebook,” said Lowndes. “Jenn made the Facebook page a few hours after the fire.”
With just over 500 hits to the Grier Street Fire Relief page in the first day, donations began to roll in only a few hours after the fire was out.
“The donations started coming in on the same day,” McKee remarked.
With the sudden influx of mass amounts of donations, they agreed on a donation drop off, Lowndes’ empty garage. “People who didn’t even know either of the families were coming from Trenton, Kingston, Peterborough and even as far as Cornwall,” said Lowndes. “It became a full-time job. We were spending 16-hour days doing pickups, organizing drop offs and sorting. We began taking donations for the second family as well, and we barely slept two hours through the weekend.”
Although they have received enough donations for both families, these young women have no plans of stopping their crusade any time soon.
“We’ll be finished when both families are happy and settled in a home, with everything they need,” said Jenn.
“It’s very inspirational for me, I didn’t realize our community was so giving,” added Lowndes. “I’m so proud of everyone. We definitely cried more than once.”
“I don’t have much faith in people, and when they started telling me that people were donating, I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea. I’ve always looked at life like I would always have to rely on myself,” said Boyce, who says that she still hasn’t been able to fully process what has happened.
“I could even dream of repaying.”