In life most of us are lucky to have the enduring love and support of our family. We know they are there for us through thick and thin, no matter what. Every now and then you get lucky and you meet and are surrounded by amazing people who aren’t technically family but become your family.
When we moved into our house 8 years ago we never dreamed how blessed we would be with our neighbours and community. The universe looked out for us and we landed on a wonderful street surrounded by an incredible community of people.
The kindness of our neighbours has never been more apparent than it was March 3rd. In a tragic turn of events our house caught fire and everything was destroyed. The day of the fire my 10-year-old son was home alone for a short period of time, during which he smelled smoke. As was the plan, he ran across the street to the neighbour’s house. Mary Beth Walenius answered the door and without hesitation called the fire department, then called my husband and myself.
When Mary Beth called me she said, “Liam is here. He smelled smoke. We called the fire department.” She knew how important it was for me to know that my son was safe, because I arrived home to smoke billowing from the windows of our house. I cannot thank her enough for the emotional support she provided to my son. In the middle of an extremely frightening episode he knew he was taken care of. She gave him a feeling of comfort and safety in the midst of the chaos.
Without hesitation Mary Beth and Bruce Walenius opened up their home to us during the crisis. We used their home as a “base camp” while we were still in shock from the fire. They had police officers, fire officials, paramedics, Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, and members of our family and friends trooping through their house the day of the fire. For the week following the fire, as we tried to figure out what to do and how to put our life back together, these incredible neighbours continued to open their home to my family whenever we needed it, including as a place for people to drop off items we might need since we’d lost everything.
As we slowly started to put our lives back together, our family began to realize just how special this neighbourhood and community is. We have been overwhelmed by the support we received.
Lindsay and Brandon Malleck generously arranged for us to have a temporary house to live in right across the street from our home. This kind offer has given us much-needed stability in a chaotic situation. The children still have the same friends in the area, catch the bus at the same bus stop, they can stay at their school, and this home has allowed us to stay close to our support network of neighbours and friends.
Dave Fortier and Michelle Lenson have helped us organize and stay on top of the countless details that have to be managed. They have been instrumental in organizing support, and fielding e-mails from concerned and helpful friends, neighbours, and people we don’t even know. Dave and my husband Marcel are active with the 3rd Ottawa Cubs and Beaver groups. My older children, Liam and Hailey, are part of the cub group and we have received much support from the whole scouting community.
To all the people in this neighbourhood who heard our story and reacted with unexpected generosity we want to thank you as well. We have received furniture, clothing for the whole family (including geeky t-shirts for Marcel and Ottawa Senators shirts for Liam), and many other necessities. When my three-year-old daughter Emily was asked where she got the dress she was wearing, she twirled around and announced proudly, “from the neighbour!”
Our kids attend Elmdale Public School. Shortly after the fire the school started collecting money for our family to help start re-building our life. A GoFundMe website was created by Amy McKay and Mark Douthwright so people could donate online. We cannot even begin to thank every single person that donated to help our family. We are deeply touched.
We also want to acknowledge all the children in the community who donated toys, books, craft supplies, stuffies, games, puzzles, and much more. Sharing treasured items like these really show how parents in this community are teaching their kids the importance of helping others. My children have learned that kindness really does matter.
We have been taken care of by hundreds of people in the last month and a half, by people we know and people we don’t. A group of incredible neighbours are now organizing a “Celebration of Community” event on our behalf. The event will take place on Friday, May 23rd at 7:00, at the Westboro Legion. The organizers have donated their time, effort, and amazing talents to provide a means of raising money while enjoying a wonderful evening of entertainment.
We are doing well. The community has caught us in a safety net before we realized we were falling. We have been able to resume a sense of normalcy in our day-to-day lives while we take time to figure out what to do next.
On that terrible day in March my family watched everything we own destroyed. In the middle of tragedy we found ourselves surrounded by a community of people who gave without asking for anything in return. We were taken care of at the worst moment in our lives. Our friends, family, neighbours, and co-workers were our rock when we needed it. They did what family does. While this large group of people is not our family in the traditional sense, they are our neighbourhood family and we are the luckiest people in the world to have found ourselves amongst them.
Thank you for everything.
Beth Malloch-Leclair, Marcel Leclair and family
Categories: Letters to the editor