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Red Cross, United Way help Bulloch family after fire

:           April 7, 2007 started out like any ordinary day for Jackie Anderson.  She and her three children woke up, ate breakfast and respectively set off to their different schools. Jackie drove to her classes at Ogeechee Technical College where she has now completed her degree as a medical assistant. Her three children got into their car to go to school in Claxton.  By mid-morning their lives would be changed forever. 

            “Around 9:00 a.m. one of the instructors at Ogeechee Tech entered my classroom and told me my home was on fire,” Anderson said. 

            As she sped to Register to her doublewide mobile home, her heart raced as she tried to process what was happening. 

            “Our family cat Garfield was in the house and I was panicked about him as well as our house,” she said. 

            When she arrived at her home, the Register Fire Department had contained the fire, but had not saved the home from ruin. The fire was predominantly on the backside of the house and the fire department determined it was an electrical fire that started in her son’s bedroom.

            “Everything we had was destroyed. The clothes in the dryer that I had put in that morning were black with smut. The glass dishes behind the cabinet doors in the kitchen were shattered. Every plastic piece in my kitchen cabinets melted. Even the food in the freezer was full of smoke,” Anderson said – describing the devastation. The family cat was never found. The single mother and her three children, Jessica, 18, Matthew, 16, and Nick, 7 were homeless.

            “The fire department asked me if they wanted me to call Red Cross and at first I declined because I thought my insurance policy would cover it,” she said. 

However, she discovered a change that had been made in her insurance policy prevented her from getting the necessary funds.

            “The policy paid for a motel for two weeks,” Anderson said. 

            With hopes they could recover what was lost, Anderson and her family continued to go back to their house scouring around for something to salvage. 

            “I was in a state of shock. My children’s christening gowns, their high school mementos, their hope chests were all gone. Everything we had was taken away and I realized that every bit of our past was just smut,” she said.

            The 36-year-old student who also works full time in the clerk’s office in Claxton contacted Red Cross for relief. 

            “When Mary Ball, the director of the Bulloch Red Cross, came out that day, we had nothing but the clothes on our back,” Anderson said.  “It was the greatest blessing because she met me with the biggest smile on her face. Her personality exuded something I needed that day. She didn’t make me feel like I was needy. She just acted like she wanted to help,” Anderson said.

            The mission of the American Red Cross is to help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to disasters. The Bulloch County Chapter Disaster Action Team was created to respond to local house fires, just like the Anderson family.            

            “When I arrived at the home, I could see that all of the windows were broken and smoke marked every opening on the exterior of the house,” Ball said. “Jackie and her daughter showed me through the house and it was a complete and total loss. The blaze was so hot that everything melted and was covered in black, thick soot. I explained to Jackie that the American Red Cross was there to help her family and provide for their immediate needs.” 

            The American Red Cross provided Anderson and her family with three- night’s lodging in a hotel, new clothing for the entire family and assistance for food for the week. That is the standard of what disaster clients receive, but sometimes it is different according to their needs.  

            Without the support of the United Way and donations from Bulloch County residents and businesses, the American Red Cross would not have been able to provide that assistance. 

            “Jackie and her family, along with the 90 other families the Bulloch County Red Cross provided assistance for in the past year, are the reason I wake up every day,” Ball said. “The American Red Cross’ mission is to provide hope, comfort and faith there is someone out there to help them during their time of need. I am lucky enough to be able to help families that have gone through such a traumatic experience and let them know the Red Cross is here to help.” 

            We have all been severely impacted by this experience,” Anderson said. “My children have had nightmares about being caught in the blaze. We have even imagined that we smell smoke at night. The smoke seems to consume your whole life.”

             I feel like I’m starting over every day. It’s hard for people to show gratitude at the time of crisis, but I am extremely grateful for all that was done for me. The attitudes that people display to you during the crisis mean so much to you.” she said.

            Currently she’s living in Claxton in another mobile home. 

           “It’s a strange feeling like you’re living in someone else’s house and wearing someone else’s clothes,” Anderson said. “But this strange existence is my reality right now because that is exactly what we are doing.”

            “We don’t have a lot now, but I’ve learned that it does not take a lot to make you blessed,” Anderson said  “This event has made me want to get involved with Red Cross and United Way. Out of this tragedy came some good, and I want return to someone what was given to me.”

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