When Darneshia Williams walked into the Fairview Heights fire department, she broke down in tears.
“I can’t believe this,” she said, looking around the room at dozens of garbage bags filled with toys, cart-fulls of food and supplies and the group of people who had raised it all for her family.
Williams, 36, and her five children, 1, 3, 11, 13 and 17, lost everything when their Fairview Heights home caught fire Dec. 8.
“I asked them what they wanted for Christmas. All they said was they wanted a house to go home to,” Williams said last week in the hotel room where the family was staying.
They may not have gotten a home just yet, but the Fairview Heights Fire Department and the community as a whole made sure they got just about everything else.
One man who is going into a retirement home offered all of his appliances to the family, including a washer and dryer, refrigerator and stove.
The department started a GoFundMe for the family that had raised $5,515 by Sunday afternoon, and posted on their Facebook asking people to drop off donations to the firehouse on Ashland Drive.
On Sunday, the department hosted their annual “Santa Day,” where parents can bring their kids to meet Santa. They invited the Williams family and surprised them with all the money and donations the community had raised for them.
Illinois State Police, the St. Clair County Coroner’s Office, local businesses and other organizations banded with the fire department to raise money for the family. Individuals in the community started their own fundraisers or dropped off checks to the firehouse.
One man who is going into a retirement home even offered all of his appliances to the family, telling them to take his microwave, refrigerator, washer, dryer and other items.
“The community, people I don’t even know, are showing support to me and my kids. It’s wonderful. I did not expect any of this,” Williams said at the event as her children played with piles of toys at the station.
$10,000 is about how much money was raised for the family
Firefighter Josh Greenfield said the effort to help the family started at the scene of the fire.
“There were a handful of firemen that decided we needed to do something right away, we needed to help a family in need at this time of the holidays,” he said. “It was an effort right on scene right then and there, and that’s how fast it moved.”
After the station started putting together the fundraiser, the rest of the community got involved.
“I don’t think anyone expected this or how much money was raised for the family,” he said.
Besides the GoFundMe, at least $3,000 in cash and checks were donated through the fire department, while sealed envelopes with unknown amounts were given directly to the family. Illinois State Police and the St. Clair County Coroner’s office raised $1,000, and Casino Queen donated bags of toys to the kids.
After the family’s story was published on Belleville News-Democrat’s website last week, the newspaper received at least a dozen calls or emails from people asking how they could help the family.
The community, people I don’t even know, are showing support to me and my kids. It’s wonderful.
Darneshia Williams, Fairview Heights mother of five
Between all the donations, Williams said her family was given about $10,000.
“This is amazing how the community and people got together to donate for my kids,” Williams said. “I even see household supplies, and I don’t even have a house yet.”
Williams said firefighters, police officers, the sheriff’s department, local newspapers, her children’s teachers and even strangers in the community have showed her overwhelming support. She also said the community in East St. Louis, where she used to live, has reached out to her to help her family.
“This is an example of how we came together to help this family in need,” Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. said.
Williams said the next step for her family is fulfilling their ultimate wish — being able to put everything the community has given them in a new home.