Charter school, churches help victims of house fire
When John Sears returned to his home in Crouse around 10 a.m. April 18, he understood why his wife, Doris, had called him crying.
“I’d raced as fast as I could to get there, but it was just full ablaze,” he said.
Doris and John Sears and their six children – Elizabeth, 15; Emma, 14; Seth, 8; Jackson, 5; and 3-year-old twins Abbie and Jessa – lost their home in the fire.
Fire Marshall Mike Futrell said it appears the fire started at some electrical point in the home, but they’re still looking at the case.
After spending two weeks in a hotel they found a house to stay in, but had to evacuate this week. The upstairs plumbing leaked, causing dangerous mold to grow, and the house is infested with mice.
“It’s really stressful now,” Doris Sears said. “At first it was fine, then the next day there’s mice everywhere.”
It could be six to eight months before their insurance company replaces their home.
“It’s just a nightmare that does not have an end,” John Sears said.
But John Sears also said the community has given him a reason to hope. Days after the fire, local churches, schools and complete strangers began an outpouring of support. He gets choked up when he talks about it.
“People from other states would send us a letter with a check – to someone they’ll never meet and have never known,” John Sears said.
But he saw some of the greatest support from Lincoln Charter School, where Seth and Jackson are students.
“The charter school, you can’t out-give them. They just keep on and on,” he said. “Lee Ann Arrowood over there called us over and over again. ‘John, we have gift cards.’ ‘John, we have more donations.’ ‘Do you want me to take these donations to the bank?’ My wife and I would just look at each other and couldn’t stop crying.
“I’m told the best is yet to come. I hope I can be half the person she was, to reach out and help someone like that,” he said.
But Arrowood, a counselor at Lincoln Charter, said it was a total group effort, and she just helped coordinate it.
“It was amazing how quickly things came in, from people connected to our school or to people connected to people at our school,” she said. “It was just really nice to see.”
But she said the school’s response was just what she’d expect.
“We are such a family-oriented school and community,” Arrowood said. “People come out to help those in need.”
Jeff Zink, owner of Denver Mini Storage, was one of the many Lincoln Charter family members who helped. Zink donated two storage units and a moving truck for the Sears family to use, even though he’d never met them.
East Lincoln Christian Ministry filled the truck with furniture, and local churches flooded them with clothes.
The truck could have cost the family $80 a day, and the units usually cost $60 each a month.
“But we don’t really look at it like that. Since we have it available, it just makes sense to do it,” Zink said. “They’re a nice family and we were just glad we were in a situation where we could help them.”
And while replacing things like clothes and furniture was important, Sears said some people really put some love and care into gifts.
His son Seth’s birthday was April 15, just three days before the fire, and he lost all his gifts in the blaze.
“His class got together and got him a bike,” Arrowood said.
Sears said the gift was a huge sigh of relief for Seth.
“But nobody would take credit. We couldn’t get a straight answer, so we don’t know who to thank. We’re just so grateful,” Sears said. “His little brother, Jackson, jokingly asked if we could move up his birthday. I don’t think anything could get the boys down.”
But the fire wasn’t so easy for his girls.
“Elizabeth and Emma are very reserved. They won’t accept any donations from the schools and they’d rather avoid attention,” he said. “They’re not peppy young teenagers like they were before.”
Even 3-year-old twins Abbie and Jessa understand that they’ve lost something.
“They’ll go up to a complete stranger and say, ‘Our house burned down. Our Dora blanket is gone,’” he said.
“The teenagers had their own space and their own things in their rooms, and they have nothing now,” Doris Sears said. “We ride by the house now, and see our whole life in the trash bin. Pictures, everything.”
But the Searses are starting to rebuild their lives.
“We’re good on clothes, and we’re still getting in donations of furniture,” Doris Sears said. “I do know I need two twin beds and mattresses for the boys.”
John Sears said it took him some time to realize that the things he lost weren’t the important things in his life.
“All those are material possessions – here today, gone tomorrow,” he said. “You can’t replace these little ones.”
Want to help?
Send donations to the Sears family to their post office box, PO Box 122, Crouse, NC 28033. For more information or to arrange for larger donations, call Doris Sears at 704-253-3419.