Red Cross helps family after holiday disaster - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Red Cross helps family after holiday disaster

The American Red Cross of the Columbia Region says they've responded to more than 540 disasters in our area since July of this year, and they say most of them have been single-family home fires.

Christy Thomas and her five children were affected by one of those disasters. They lost everything they owned to a house fire on Thanksgiving this year. "I never could fathom anything like that," said Thomas. "I never thought anything like this would happen."

A month later, Thomas and her family were able to reunite with the Red Cross volunteer who helped them sort through the aftermath of the fire. "Hi Amy!," said Thomas as she opened her arms to hug the woman who treated her family with kindness. The pair, and four of Thomas' five kids walked up to the house that had burned just four weeks before. 

Thomas and her family have rented the home on Co Co Road for two years in Columbia. They had left to go out-of-town to visit family the night before Thanksgiving, and on Thanksgiving Day, they received a phone call that they say changed their life. "The neighbor told us that our house had burned down and that it was completely destroyed," said Thomas.

Thomas says she and her kids rushed back home to find walls and ashes. "The fire chief actually made me aware, if we were home, because it started so late, we probably would have been asleep and the smoke would have consumed us before we woke up," said Thomas. Thankful that they were alive, their next concern was their dog, ‘Lily'. They later discovered Lily didn't make it out alive.

"I didn't know what to say [or] what to do," said Thomas. "After everything sunk in and the reality that my dog was gone… [I thought], okay, my family, what are we going to do?"

That's when Amy Shephard entered the picture. "I love helping people," said Shephard, who's been volunteering with the Red Cross for just over three months. "It's pretty much, my heart goes out to everyone all over again, every time [a disaster happens]," said Shephard.

Like 98 percent of the Red Cross workforce, Amy is an unpaid volunteer who is often on call, like she was on Thanksgiving. "I was actually in the process of moving… on top of, I was actually going to Thanksgiving dinner," said Shephard.

Shephard dropped everything and met Thomas' family at a hotel. "It was just heartfelt, God-sent," said Thomas. "It was a blessing."

Shephard ensured the Red Cross paid for their hotel room for three nights and gave them money the things they needed like toothbrushes and clothes. "It was cold, she knew we need coats. She knew we needed socks. She knew we needed t-shirts and everything, and she made sure that we had enough," added Shephard.

Part of what Shephard could also share, was experience. "Back in 2003, when I was 15 years-old, I had a house fire myself….and the Red Cross was there for us," said Shephard.

Shortly after these two women met, Shephard was sent out-of-state to respond to Superstorm Sandy, but Thomas says the Red Cross' efforts didn't stop there. "I hadn't spoken with Amy [before today] because I think she's been on another disaster, but I have spoken to another lady at the Red Cross and she's been keeping in touch with me frequently," said Thomas. "They kept in contact to find out if I found permanent housing and everything."

Thomas and her family have found a new place to live and are starting to replace what they can of what was lost. "People have been giving us clothes and everything we need, and it's been going good so far," said Thomas' 13 year-old son, Keston.

And as they continue to rebuild their lives, they say they can look back on that day and see good including having found a new friend. "We lost everything, but we have one thing we had to be thankful for," said Thomas. "We had our lives, and we had someone to come out to show compassion enough to give us things and allow us to have a temporary housing…you couldn't ask for more."

If you want to become a volunteer, you can contact the Red Cross by phone at (800) Red-Cross or online at http://www.redcross.org/.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.

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