On Feb. 10, Marti Marcurella of Grays, in Jasper County, started training for her new part-time job at the soon-to-open Chicken Salad Chick restaurant in Bluffton.
The store opened March 10 with great fanfare and a ribbon cutting. Just seven days later, the coronavirus pandemic caused operations to grind to a near-halt.
The store quickly converted to offering pick-up orders only. Marcurella was happy to be part of the skeleton crew.
"She was one of the ones able to come in, so she worked all through it," said Ann O'Neal, catering coordinator for the local franchise.
Marcurella was grateful to have the job. A former paramedic, she was injured at work in 2010 and became disabled as a result. The extra income was necessary.
Two months later, disaster struck.
"On May 13, I was home and had just put some clothes in the dryer," Marcurella said. "I was walking back to check something on the stove, and smelled something burning. But it wasn't in either of those two places."
As she passed a window, she saw that the siding on her mobile home was on fire.
"I called 9-1-1 with the phone in one hand and a hose in the other," Marcurella said. "The house would have been on the ground if I hadn't been home."
O'Neal said Marcurella had the presence of mind to call in to work. "She called to say, 'I can't come to work this morning. My house is on fire.'"
The fire destroyed everything in the home's den and most of the kitchen. Marcurella said she and her boyfriend, Keith Jeffreys, who is also disabled, were able to save some things, such as clothing and some furniture, but that everything "smelled like smoke."
There was no insurance on the place, Marcurella said, "because you can't afford insurance on a mobile home in a hurricane zone - it's more than a month's paycheck."
Four days later, Marcurella said, her store manager, Anna Simmons, came to her house with gift cards. Other co-workers were quick to respond as well. "The franchise owners, Kelly and Tim (Paslawski), managers - all of them have been so supportive," Marcurella said. "Kelly messaged me on our group app and said if there was anything they could do, to ask - within hours after the fire."
But there was more to come.
A fundraiser was planned and held over Memorial Weekend. For a donation in any amount, customers would receive a coupon for a return trip to the store.
When she heard about the fundraiser, Marcurella said "I cried. It was all so overwhelming to me."
They group invited Marcurella back to the store May 26 to present her with a check for $1,500. Again, she was overwhelmed.
"You just wouldn't expect, after working with someone for three months, for them to do what they've done for me," Marcurella said.
A GoFundMe account has been set up in her name, Martha Marcurella.