Saturday, August 31, 2013
As the smoke hit him, Donnie Brown could only grab one thing out of his unit at the Ashely Lane Apartments.
"Just a jacket," Brown said. "That's all I could grab."
When Brown, 54, got outside early Tuesday morning and saw his third-floor apartment on fire, he realized that's all he likely ever would be able to salvage.
"We lost everything," Brown said.
But while Brown and his wife and dozens of other families lost everything in Tuesday's fire, the community has rallied to give them a fresh start.
Brown and his wife, Gennie, became the first family to receive some of those community donations when volunteers from His Helping Hands ministry from Central Christian Church delivered a truck load to them Saturday.
"I'm well appreciative," Brown said.
Volunteers gathered early Saturday morning at the His Helping Hands warehouse to fill up a truck of household items for the Brown's. They had a lot to choose from thanks to the numerous donations people have dropped off since the fire.
"It makes us feel very good about our community and I think they are to be commended for the way they stepped up on this," said Paul Dohm, Executive Director for His Helping Hands.
The volunteers then drove the truck to the Brown's new apartment to make the delivery.
Donnie says he and his wife were able to get that new apartment because firefighters found a box in their old apartment that had survived the fire; it had two, $100 bills inside.
But with nothing else salvaged, Donnie waited eagerly for the truck to arrive Saturday morning so he could have some household essentials once again.
"If you can replace it quickly, it makes you feel better," Donnie Brown said.
Donnie was most excited to see the microwave and bed come off the truck.
"It's just a beautiful sight to see," Donnie Brown said.
Donnie and his wife of more than 20-years had lived at Ashley Lane Apartments for about two years. He says the most difficult loss is family pictures he and his wife had held onto.
But he says it's a true blessing they survived the fire.
"We barely made it out of there by the skin of our teeth," Donnie Brown said. "I'm just glad to be alive. Materials can be replaced but life can't."
And, he says, just as the Red Cross and His Helping Hands promised, those materials are being replaced one by one.
"It touches our hear to see people being grateful, getting what they need and that we were a part of that," said Jackie Minnis, Operations Manager for His Helping Hands.
In other words, Brown says, the hard work of volunteers and the outpouring of love from the community are helping to put his family's life back together piece by piece.
"They said they would take care of me and they have taken care of me," Donnie Brown said. "I really appreciate it."
His Helping Hands leaders say they expect to make between 50 and 70 more of those deliveries given the large number of families affected by the fire.
So, they say, they can still use donations of beds (full size and twin size). They also are in need of more dressers. If you'd like to make a donation, you can drop off items at the organization's warehouse located at 1441 E. 37 Street N. in Wichita. The warehouse is closed for the holiday weekend but will reopen for donations Tuesday.