LACONIA — A family that lost all of its belongings in a fast-moving apartment building fire on Blueberry Lane on July 28 may have found her family's savior in the form of an area contractor who has recently renovated an apartment.
"Michelle" and her husband have two children who are 16 and 11 and they reached out to Jim French of Jim French Home Improvements, who had listed an apartment in the newspaper.
"He called us first this this morning," she said Tuesday afternoon. "He's willing to work with us on the paperwork and on the first month's rent and security deposit."
"He is a really nice landlord," she said. "Jim has made us the happiest people on earth."
French said yesterday he is working with the family but the process is not yet complete. "I'm trying to do my best," he said.
Michelle lived in one of the apartments that was heavily damaged by a three-alarm fire that officials believe was caused by the careless disposal of smoking materials. The family lost all of its belongings — except a washer and — and she said they have been staying at a local hotel for which the Red Cross paid five days and the Laconia Police Relief Association paid two more.
With the exception of the washer and dryer, she said the only other things that was saved was a football from their apartment signed by New England Patriots running back and special teams receiver Brandon Boldon. She said Boldon signed it at last year's training camp. The family was planning to return to training camp this year in the hopes that quarterback Tom Brady would autograph a football for him but the fire prevented that.
Fire Chief Ken Erickson said the ceiling in the top floor of this family's apartment had collapsed but once the fire was extinguished, two of his firefighters were able to find the football. Told it was the child's prized possession, Erickson said it was nice to see how comforted the boy was when he got his football.
While still shaken by the blaze, Michelle and her husband wanted to thank the many members of the community — most of whom were total strangers — for their kindness and generosity.
She said the fire and police departments have been wonderful to them but her real personal thanks go to a woman she identified as Mrs. P who works at Walgreen's and who gave them a gift card to help with personal hygiene items.
"She gave my kids money so they could each get a few items of clothing," Sarah said.
She said Wingate Village, the owners of the buildings at 103 Blueberry Lane, have also been very helpful. She said they have set up a fund for the families who were permanently displaced. She had special thanks for the company maintenance team members who ran around the building banging on doors until everyone was out of the unit.
She said the New Beginnings family crisis center has been helping her family as have a number of other agencies in the area.
Michelle also said she has a friend named Jessica who is the single parent of three children who is reluctant to ask for help but who is desperately seeking an affordable three-bedroom apartment and some clothing for her children who are a 9-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. Jessica herself wears a medium to large and she is tall.
At the National Night Out event hosted at Wingate Village by the Police Department on Tuesday, a different friend of Jessica's was distributing a flier reiterating the same things Michelle said.
Wingate Village administrative assistant Ann Cochrane said that her agency helped distribute some of the fliers as well. She also said that all security deposits being held by the company for the people who cannot return will be returned to them no later than 30 days.
"There is a process but it can take up to 30 days," she said.
Donations of clothes, furniture, bedding, money and other items are are being accepted at New Beginnings on North Main Street said Cochrane and Wingate Village has distributed a list of agencies that can help the victims.
"These folks are in a bad spot. When people are in a bad spot you should take the time to help them," Cochrane said.
Cochrane added that there are no vacancies at Wingate Village at this time so the permanently displaced families will have to go elsewhere.
As for Michelle, she said that while this is a very trying time for her and her family, the initial help of Wingate Village, the Red Cross, and the fire and police departments have kept her her family safe and together. As for all of the people who came out of the blue to help her and the other families, she said she can only express great gratitude.
"There are so many nice people out there who offered to help us with so many things," she said.