CRESTVIEW — Jennifer Pierce says she's witnessed "a true blessing" after a house fire last week claimed the two-story rental she shared with her three children.
North Okaloosa residents who saw the Crestview News Bulletin Online's Saturday article about the engulfed Crape Myrtle Townhomes residence have come forward in a big way, she said.
New Beginnings Church on West James Lee Boulevard brought food, toys and clothes for Jennifer and her children, Robert, 11; Trista, 9; and Jaden, 8, she said.
Their church, Pentecostals of Baker, provided two mattresses for a bunk bed donated by the Waterfront Rescue Mission, which also provided a sleeper sofa. Robert and Jaden will share the bed; for now, mother and daughter will share the sofa.
The Salvation Army in Fort Walton Beach will provide dishes and bedding, Jennifer said.
What once seemed like a hopeless situation has provided a revelation about the kindness of North Okaloosa neighbors.
"It's amazing to see the community pull together," Jennifer said as her voice started to crack on Monday. "People need to know that there are good people out there — not everybody's bad."
Residents who want to help can donate these items:
●Funding to help transfer utilities
●Clothes: Robert wears a size 16, 18 or small; Jaden wears a size 6 or 7; Trista wears a size 9 or 10; and Jennifer wears a woman's large top and size 10
On April 15, Jennifer's children and some neighborhood kids were in the living room of their Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue townhouse when she made a quick run to a neighbor's house to load laundry since her machines were broken.
Before leaving, she said, she set the stove to cook hot dogs, baked beans and french fries.
She returned to a home ablaze.
"I turned it (the stove) on, I gathered up my clothes .... I literally walked two doors down, threw my clothes in the washer and came back to my house, in a two- or three-minute span of time," she said.
A Crestview Fire Department news release referred to the incident as an "accidental stove cooking fire" that caused about $75,000 in property damage and $10,000 in damage to contents.
First responders from the Crestview Fire Department, North Okaloosa Fire District and Eglin Air Force Base Fire Department responded to the scene.
But prior to that, Robert's inner hero emerged.
"My 11-year-old, he manned up that night ... He was running to different apartments and getting fire extinguishers," Jennifer said. "I don't know where he learned to do that. I'm truly blessed ... We definitely had God on our side that night."
The family is moving into an apartment near the burned building. Red Cross funding allowed them to stay at Comfort Inn in Crestview through Monday
Jennifer, a housekeeper who works in Destin, says business has been slow this year; that's meant working about three days each week, and "by the time gas and all (the bills) comes out it ain't really much," she said of her income.
"I'm a single mother ... I'm all I got with my three kids. I get no help from nobody else.
Any donations would help, Jennifer said. No fund has been set up, as of this writing, but anyone wishing to help can call her at 850-307-7278.