Help from Facebook friends
London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
A devasting fire has sparked an “overwhelming” outpouring of support and aid from the social media world for one family who had to flee their burning home with only the clothes on their backs.
The fire broke out Thursday morning (Sept. 6) at a four-plex apartment building on Argyle Street.
Marie MacKenzie and Steven Finnemore were renting one of the units in the building without insurance and most of their possessions were lost in the blaze.
They have not been able to return to the apartment as the London Fire Department is currently investigating the fire, which also displaced renters in three other units.
While the Red Cross delivered some essentials to those affected by the fire, Valeeta Blancher-Bennett, granddaughter to Marie and niece to Finnemore, had the idea to go one step further and appeal to hundreds of her friends through social media.
“I have 991 friends on Facebook and thought, what’s the harm?” she said.
Roughly 10 hours after the fire broke out, Blancher-Bennett, 40, posted a plea on Facebook asking her friends for items that could help her grandmother and uncle, such as clothes and furniture.
The response blew her away.
“Within an hour we had practically furnished an apartment,” she said. “It’s just phenomenal just how quickly people responded and how quickly people in this community have stepped up.
“I have a friend I haven’t seen in 15 years. She added me on Facebook, she’s sending me a package of clothing.”
Blancher-Bennett said she was in front of her computer until midnight working through her friends’ pledges of donations such as beds, recliner chairs, house wares, televisions, a computer, clothing, shoes, towels and linens.
And since she teaches English-as-a-second-language courses in London and has made friends around the world, the reaction to her post was global.
“I’ve got people in Mexico asking me what they can send me and people in Saudi Arabia asking what they can do,” Blancher-Bennett said. “I’ve got friends all over Canada asking what my address is so that they can courier items here and friends who don’t have items but are sending messages saying ‘Listen, I’ve got a truck. Tell me when you need it and we’ll move the furniture'.”
Marie, who is in her mid-70s and recently had a stroke that has affected her speech, is staying with her niece at a home in south London.
She said she is astounded at the generosity of her granddaughter’s friends.
“It’s fantastic,” she said, adding she wants to send a huge thank you to everyone who is assisting her in this difficult time. “It’s only just started really.”
And her gratitude extends to her granddaughter.
“A lot of it is her doing.”
Blancher-Bennett said the family still doesn’t know if the apartment can be repaired or if they will need a new home.
While she’s already received boxes and bags of items such as clothing, her friends will hang on to the donations of larger items such as furniture until more is known about where Marie and Finnemore, who is currently staying with a friend, will be living.
Although Facebook can sometimes get a bad rap for some of the mundane information people post on the website, Blancher-Bennett said this is truly a case where the website has shown its powers for good.
She added she is extremely happy now that she has befriended so many people on Facebook over the years, even those who are really just acquaintances.
“I know I surround myself with amazing people but this is just a testament to that.
I’m just incredibly overwhelmed by the response from people who have never met my grandmother, who want to help,” she said. “People are just good. Humanity is amazing.
“We spend so much time talking about the bad things people do. I would like to say it’s just the opposite. When people see others in need, they’re quick to help.”
Anyone who would like to help Blancher-Bennett’s family can visit her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/valeeta.blancherbennett.
She would also ask the community to think about helping the other tenants who have been displaced from their homes due to the fire.