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Fire: Family gets help from wider community as it rebuilds

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Vertrella Brown moved aside a singed piece of board and picked her way carefully around blackened debris as she circled the remains of the house she lived in for eight years and shared with a daughter, a son and two grandchildren.

A week after the March 7 fire that claimed the home on Annie Rainey Lane, the smell of smoke is still heavy in the air.

There are gaping holes in what used to be a bedroom wall and where flames ate through the roof. What’s left of charred shutters hangs askew from a window, and burned plants in small pots litter what was once a well kept area around the front steps.

It’s hard for Brown to see the property that way, she said, but all things considered she counts herself lucky. The fire, which was traced to a candle in a bedroom, claimed everything the family owned except the clothes they wore that day, but no one was hurt. Her daughter and one of her grandchildren, who were home when the fire started made it out safely.

The family has since moved in with another of Brown’s daughters, who lives nearby.

And while their possessions are gone, the community has rallied around them, led by Brown’s employers, Brian and Sassy Henry.

“They’ve done so much,” Brown said. “They’ve been real good.”

A Facebook page to help Brown was set up the day after the fire and donations were quick to start coming in, something Brian said is a testament to how loved Brown is.

“Her house was sort of a central gathering place, not only for her family, but members of her community and people needing a warm meal,” he said. “She just takes care of people.”

Brown has worked at the Sea View Inn for 27 years and with the Henrys since they bought it 10 years ago. She’s also well known as the woman who added the “soul” to Palmetto Cheese, a product produced by another of the Henrys’ businesses. Her face graces the label on the packaging.

The Henrys sent out an e-mail to regular guests at the Sea View and that, in conjunction with the Facebook plea brought in donations not just from the local area, but from all over. They’ve been coming in by check, as well as online through PayPal, and folks have given clothing and other items for Brown and her family.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Brian said. But with so much lost there’s still a need.

Brown didn’t own the home she lived in and it wasn’t insured. There are issues with the land, too. It’s heirs property, but the Henrys are in contact with an uncle of Brown who lives out of state to try to get permission to put a mobile home on the property for Brown. They haven’t gotten a mobile home yet, but that seems like the best option right now, Brian said.

There’s a need for furniture and, while a good supply of clothing has come in for Brown’s grandchildren, there’s still a need for clothing for the adults in the family. Sizes, along with links to donate money online, and more information about the family, are available under the “about” section on their Facebook page.

Donations of clothing, furniture and other items are being accepted at Get Carried Away.

Money received has enabled Brown and her family to purchase basic necessities, but Henry said most of the funds are being held to get the family into a new home as soon as possible.

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