MADISON — The kindness of strangers is keeping the spirit of season alive for a family displaced by a house fire Christmas Eve.
“We’re very thankful to be alive and we’re just thankful for the help from our neighbors and the community,” said Beth McDermott whose home was damaged in the fire.
“Their support and their love has just really helped us through this terrible time,” she said, her voice breaking. “I don’t think we could have gotten through it without everybody’s help.”
Only a couple hours after moving into their temporary residence at a local motel, Madison’s Moxie restaurant delivered Christmas Eve dinner.
“They were so nice, they delivered an entire meal and it was so appreciated,” said McDermott. “I can’t thank them enough. That one meal meant so much to us, especially that night.”
For Moxie owner Bill Plunkett, delivering a meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad and brussel sprouts was the right thing to do.
“Things are tough these days for everybody, but you can only imagine what these people feel,” Plunkett said. “Now, more than ever, they need our help.”
Beth McDermott lives in the house on Horse Pond Road with her fiancé, Joe Hutchinson, her daughter, Madeline Townsley, 22-years-old and Emily Hutchinson, 9-years-old.
McDermott and her fiancé were the only individuals in the home, along with their two rabbits, Sophie and Elsie and Bella, a golden retriever, when the fire started in the lower level of the raised ranch.
McDermott had just started a shower when she smelled smoke.
By the time Joe Hutchinson was able to locate the blaze it had fully engulfed the lower level of the home.
“I heard him (Joe Hutchinson) yell, ‘Get out of the house, there’s a fire,’” said McDermott. “I couldn’t get dressed fast enough and it was starting to get really smoky and as I was walking down the hall all I saw was black, I couldn’t see in front of me.”
While the fire was contained in the lower level of the ranch there is residual damage throughout the house, explained McDermott.
“There’s smoke damage, especially in anything made of material and not wood — the couches, the rugs, beds and clothes” she said.
“What we were allowed to take out of there, from the upstairs, clothing, shoes and such, everything had an odor,” she added. “We tried washing our clothes, they still smell.”
On Sunday, Dec. 27 the cleaning company advised the family that it will likely be two-three months before they are back in the house. “Just about everything needs to be thrown out, the blankets, mattresses and box springs, pillows and food,” said McDermott.
“The rugs we’re going to try to save and the cleaning company will take the clothes and do what they can. It’s worse than I had thought. I had hoped that it would be a lot better,” she added.
McDermott’s daughter, Madeline Townsley, however, is now enjoying some new clothes, thanks to Ciao Bella co-owner Sheila Salkin, who invited her to come shop at the store.
“If we can help make it a little brighter and have something new to put on, that’s what the season is all about,” said Salkin.
“I feel very fortunate in what I have and if I can share what I have with someone who doesn’t have, it makes me feel good,” the Madison resident added.
McDermott appreciated Salkin’s invitation.
“I’m so glad my daughter was able to get some outfits,” said McDermott. “Sheila was so sweet. At the end she said, ‘If you need anything else, contact me.’”
For Salkin this is what the season is all about.
“I would hope that if it was my family…it’s Christmas time and it’s what you do, especially this year, of all years,” she said.
“I feel like if you can help someone in this year, of all years, then you should do it,” she added. “It’s a good feeling to help someone and they were really appreciative, which makes it all worthwhile.”
McDermott is thankful for all the community support — starting with her neighbors phoning 911, the quick action of Madison Hose Co. No, 1 and North Madison Volunteer Fire Company and numerous individuals who have donated food, clothing and money to help them during this time of crisis, including the American Red Cross and Madison Youth and Family Services.
“Our neighbors’ three children, they’re angels,” said McDermott. “They all helped. One of the neighbor’s daughters took the two rabbits, another daughter took the dog and then the son brought over a fire extinguisher and sprayed the base of the fire and he really contained it, a lot.”
While fire officials would not share details about the fire could because it is an ongoing investigation, Madison Hose Co. No. 1 Fire Chief Robert Kyttle noted the fire was active upon arrival.
“It was a minor fire that could have been worse,” he added, “but due to the quick action of the first firefighters on scene they kept it at bay.”
Kyttle added that the American Red Cross was contacted to assist with immediate needs for housing and food and he applauds all the individuals and organizations that are assisting this local family.
“It’s a wonderful thing that the community comes together in a somebody’s time of need,” he said.
McDermott’s neighbor, Cathy Akers, was also instrumental in making a connection with Madison resident Cindy Breckheimer who created the Facebook Shoreline CT — Spread the Love page.
The site was created after Breckheimer learned that requests for assistance at Madison Youth and Family Services included 150 local families.
“I know our community wants to help people, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to even do,” said Breckheimer. “The goal of it (Facebook page) was to try to connect all the amazing people who want to help, to show them where there are ways to help.”
Breckheimer, along with friends, has already had collections for coats, diapers and food for local residents since starting the Facebook page before Thanksgiving.
“This whole thing has turned into such a wonderful experience,” Breckheimer said, referring to assisting Beth McDermott and her family. “It’s been so heartwarming to see people come together like this.”
McDermott is overwhelmed with the outpouring of community support, started by Breckheimer.
“She rallied the troops and people started donating,” McDermott said in the phone interview.
These donations included money, gift cards, food, a microwave, clothes and personal care products. At press time over $3,100 in gift cards had been collected for the family.
“People have been just been absolutely amazing,” said Breckheimer. “It really just been so wonderful to see everybody pull together so quickly for this family. Even over Christmas people were still reaching out to me, taking the time away from their own families and day to ask how they can help. The community has been amazing.”
While the donations continue to stream in through Shoreline CT — Spread the Love Breckheimer is also accepting donations through her Venmo @cindy-breckheimer. In addition, an Amazon account has been created to help the family during their stay at the motel. That can be accessed at Amzn.to/38BHGXf. In addition, a GoFundMe page was also started for the family at https://gofund.me/1de720f5.
“Thankful is an understatement and it really just gives me hope that everything that people have been dealing with this year, there are so many good people,” McDermott said. “The community came together to help us and we couldn’t be more grateful to them.”
To contribute to this family visit Facebook Shoreline CT — Spread the Love and Amzn.to/38BHGXf; donations can be made via Venmo @cindy-breckheimer or by calling Cindy Breckheimer at 860-690-3141.