Tammy Olson, at left, and Toni Havens sort through donations for the Boone family, Friday afternoon. Photo by Phil Custodio
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
A network of friends, neighbors, and strangers came together to help an Independence Township family who lost almost everything in a house fire last week.
“I cannot express how grateful and thankful we are for every single person who has reached out, donated, gave us shelter, and prayed for us,” said Shelby Boone in a letter posted online. “We are so blessed to live in such an amazing city that pulls together as one big family when something like this happens. We are thankful for everyone we don’t even know who has helped in any way possible. We are strongly leaning on our faith in God to get us through this time and ask you continue praying.”
Neighbors Tammy Olson and Toni Havens started organizing a donation drive for the Boone Family – Shelby, Josh, and their children – before the smoke cleared, Jan. 30.
The word spread quickly on social media and people lined up to help, Havens said.
“We started taking drop offs by midday on Wednesday and started going through it,” she said. “Neighbors came over to help.”
They picked up clothing, housewares, gift cards, and other items from all over the Clarkston area, as well as Waterford, Madison Heights, Kalamazoo, Holly, and other areas.
“I can’t believe the outpouring of donations,” said Olson, whose living room, dining room, and surrounding hallways were filled with bags bursting with donated items. “It’s been a crazy week.”
They went through the donations, ironed clothing, separated, organized, and prioritized everything for immediate delivery to the Boone family, longer-term storage, or donation to the Salvation Army for unneeded items.
“The community coming together is amazing,” Havens said. “We have been so overwhelmed with the response.”
They’ve known the Boones for years and their children are friends, Olson said.
“My son asked, ‘why are we doing all this,’” she said. “They lost everything, they only have the clothes on their backs. We were always taught to put God first, then family, friends, and other people, then your self.”
Shelby requested additional items intended for donation be dropped off at women’s shelters, churches, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, etc. to help out other families in need.
“Because everyone was so quick to help and donate, we have so much stuff to get us through for a very long time. Every little thing has helped us tremendously,” she said. “We are still in the process of sorting through everything. It has been overwhelming with the love and support we’ve received from friends, family, and strangers.”
At about 10:45 a.m., Feb. 3, Shelby smelled smoke coming from the garage area, opened the door to the garage from the house in the 5000 block of Old Cove Road and saw flames. She fled with her son to a neighbor’s house and called 9-1-1. The flames spread from the garage to the house. Their minivan was in the driveway in front of the garage, caught on fire, and was also destroyed.
“We had approximately 25 firefighters rotate through the scene,” said Staff Lieutenant Don Herbert, Independence Township Fire Department Technical Services Unit. “Besides Independence, we also had Orion, Brandon, and Waterford Regional on scene. Oakland County Sheriff deputies also helped with traffic control, assisted firefighters move hose lines, and attended to the homeowners.”
“We thank God every second that our human family is OK and got out safe,” Shelby said. “Our pups are doing better everyday and we are heartbroken our cats didn’t make it. They can never be replaced.”
The firefighters worked in subzero temperatures that morning, with one firefighter receiving minor injuries from a fall. The firefighter is recovering, with no long term effects expected, Herbert said.
“We manage operations in cold weather by rotating the crews, exposing them to the elements for as short a time as possible,” he said. “Some were able to operate longer than others, as they did not get wet. Others were soaked, and that limits their operating time.”
Neighbors appreciated the efforts, Olson said.
“We got three dozen donuts for the police and firefighters,” she said.
The family is looking to stay in a rental home while the house is repaired or rebuilt, which could take about eight months. The children’s school, North Sashabaw Elementary, and football team Clarkston Chiefs are collecting donations, and Shelby’s brother, Jonathan Runyon, started an Gofundme campaign.
“My sister is pregnant with her third kid and this is the absolute worst thing that could have happened to this family on the coldest day in Michigan in decades,” Runyon said in his Gofundme appeal. “I’m usually not the one to ask for donations but this is going to a very good cause to get my sister back on track and back to living comfortably and safely in a home. Please pray for her and her family as we work as hard as possible to get them back on their feet!”