LAKE PLACID - One Wilmington family has been going through some unbelievably tragic times lately. Fortunately, many people in the community have helped to soften the blow.
Randy Patterson, Tammie Knox, and their four children, Deyondra, 11; Dustin, 8; and five-year-old twins Danaya and Dariana lost most of their belongings, including several pets, in a Dec. 21 fire that destroyed their home at 37 Juniper Lane in Wilmington.
And the holidays have proven rough for the Pattersons. In addition to losing their home, the family vehicle broke down on Christmas Eve and, on New Year's Day, Patterson's grandfather passed away.
While the time since then has, no doubt, been a struggle for the Pattersons, an effort by fellow community members has given them much-needed support in a trying time.
Neither Patterson nor Knox were at home when the fire struck, and all four children were in class at Lake Placid Elementary School. Patterson and Knox went to pick them up as soon as they received word of the fire.
News of their loss resonated among the children's teachers, and soon the wheels were in motion for a massive clothing and food drive.
"We heard about it around 1:00 or 1:30 that day, and people just jumped into action," said Lake Placid Elementary principal Rick Retrosi, noting how the school became somewhat of an unofficial clearing house to benefit the family.
Teachers and staff were able to determine clothing sizes for the children, and e-mails went out to parent and teacher organizations alerting people of the need.
"Faculty members contributed in the form of either clothing, money, or gift cards," said Retrosi. "People responded with all kinds of clothing, new and older clothing, and brought all their stuff to the school."
Meanwhile, the family made arrangements to stay with Patterson's parents in Lake Placid, where many of the donations were already being delivered.
"We had hockey that night, and by the time we got home from hockey, my parents' livingroom and kitchen were chock full of stuff," said Patterson. "That gives you an idea of how quickly things came in."
Knox was especially touched by gifts of brand new underwear and socks.
"You don't realize you don't have them until they're gone," she said. "For them to go out that night and buy brand new things for our kids was just amazing."
Significant donations of clothes and money continued to pour in from other organizations and individuals in the community, many of them being delivered to Lake Placid Elementary, Lake Placid Fire Department, or The Palace Theatre before being passed along to the Pattersons.
"We have a three-page list of people that have been donating," said Patterson, "and it's just so hard to pinpoint who did the most."
Donations brought to the school were sorted by faculty and staff and packaged for easy delivery to the family.
"We actually pulled the children out of the classroom and brought them out to where we had sorted the clothes," Retrosi said, noting how their parents joined them in picking up donations from the school before Christmas break.
"There were tears in their eyes," said Retrosi. "They were just so thrilled and happy that people knew what they were going through and there was somebody there for them."
Both Patterson and Knox said the donations have made a huge difference, helping them to remain clothed and fed at a time when they otherwise would have practically nothing.
"It's been really crucial because, when we left, we left with just the clothes on our backs," said Patterson. "Plus, it gave my kids a Christmas, which I didn't think we were going to have because the presents we had gotten were in the house also."
Donation collections for the family have been ongoing. Knox said they are in continual need of gift cards to grocery and hardware stores, but the support that's come in so far has just been overwhelming.
"It's just so hard to put into words," said Knox. "They went above and beyond what we ever imagined. There's just not enough sincere thank-yous that we can give."