A fire off Goethe Road robbed a long-time Bluffton resident of her house and all her worldly possessions three days before Christmas. But it has not stolen her belief in the kindness of others, thanks to an outpouring of community support.
“I am just so happy and so thankful for the folks who have boosted me back up after all this,” said the 58-year-old fire victim. She prefers to keep her identity private.
Accepting help has meant putting her pride aside, but she said the community just wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I’m just trying to get my bearings back about me at this point,” she said. “It’s been a lot but it could have been a lot worse. And all this love from strangers – it’s been a blessing.”
Bluffton Township Fire District officials said they were dispatched around 7:45 a.m. on Dec. 22 to the fire on Benjamin Miller Lane. Police helped close off Goethe Road traffic, as water lines were stretched across the road to battle the structure fire.
The fire was under control and extinguished in about 90 minutes, but the damage was extensive and made the dwelling unlivable. The woman, who is currently on dialysis and in the midst of a five-year wait for a kidney transplant, was not home at the time.
“That’s a blessing as well. I have no burns, I have no smoke damage in my lungs. I lost my worldly possessions, but I’m still here,” she said.
Community members immediately rallied in support of the woman, led by community activist Heather Price. The Ask and Answer Facebook group founder asked for donations the day of the fire and quickly received all the items on the wish list plus many more. Donations included furniture, home décor, appliances and an Amazon Kindle.
Angel donors such as Holly Loebs at Vintage Market and Janelle Nelems at JKN Design Services have helped in donating a lot of home furnishings for the victim’s potential new home.
In all, so much was donated that a storage unit was needed. Morningstar Storage of Bluffton quickly stepped up to house the donations at their facility.
“The kindness of this community never ceases to amaze me, it’s just what we do here. We take care of our neighbors,” Price said. “And for this to happen three days before Christmas, I think that just hit people’s hearts even harder.”
The woman is staying with relatives on Hilton Head Island for now, and, while thankful to have a roof over her head, she misses the neighbors she has had in the Goethe Road corridor since moving there in 1975.
“Those are some good people. I definitely miss my privacy, my independence, but I’m fortunate to have family to lean on,” she said. “To know the friends you make, the way you try to live, that it had an impact on friends and strangers that would want to help me, it keeps me going.”
Insurance adjusters have said the home is totaled but have not given a timeline as to when she can expect a ruling on a settlement.
“It’s been a waiting game with this kidney, so I know ‘waiting’ well. You just got to keep on putting one foot in front of the other each day,” she said.
Two of her three siblings are already deceased. She said the fire was just another sign that she has more to do on Earth.
“Yes, I’ve dealt with a lot of loss. But I’m still here,” she said. “This kidney battle, losing my family, it’s been tough, but I’m a fighter.”
One of the possessions that is most difficult to replace are the dentures that were lost in the fire. A Bluffton dentist, Dr. Joseph Miller, has donated his services to help fit the woman with new dentures, but the cost of the materials from the outside company needs to be covered.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help cover the denture materials costs and has raised more than $4,000 to date.
“The idea that I’m going to be able to get dentures back, I just can’t wait for that little bit of normal,” the woman said of the GoFundMe help. “To have Dr. Miller and folks donating money here, I just don’t have enough ways to say thank you.”
She dreams of the day that she can return to the site that has been her home for more than 45 years. She is very nervous about potentially living in another mobile home.
“I hope I can have a sturdier home with good bones when I finally can get back there,” she said. “I’m just saying my prayers and hoping for a good call from the insurance folks.”
In the meantime, she still has a few immediate needs. The GoFundMe monies raised to date will likely cover the denture costs, but the woman is still in need of a refrigerator for her temporary residence. Gift cards for day-to-day costs are still a pressing need.
Donations are being accepted on the GoFundMe page, gofund.me/ff4ef4eb, and by contacting Price via the Ask and Answer group or DM on Facebook or by emailing email@example.com.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.