When a fire ravaged their home on Anthes Avenue on Friday evening, the Jones/Russell family lost everything — their home, their car, their furniture, clothes, toys for the kids, birth certificates and family photos.
Also lost in the inferno was 8-year-old Emmalee Russell’s dress for her first communion that was to take place the next day. Nonetheless, Emmalee was ready — in a new dress, new shoes — at church Saturday to take part in this special milestone thanks to the generosity of the community, said her mother Aimee Russell.
“People got her a really pretty dress and shoes and she was ready for her first communion,” Russell said.
The fire started Friday evening around 6:30 p.m. in the garage of the home owned by Russell’s mother Maralie Johnson, and engulfed the home and her mother’s car very fast. Russell was at work at the time, but her son Ryan smelled smoke and made sure his younger sister and grandmother got out in time. An hour later, all of their possessions were gone in the blaze.
The family is trying to cope.
“We’re doing OK,” she said.
“The first day of school was tough. We talked to a counselor. It was overwhelming. She is just a little girl,” Russell said of her daughter Emmalee.
“He is mostly quiet. He is upset,” she said of Ryan, adding that they are still missing one of their cats and that they assume that the feline may not have made it out of the burning house.
Russell said the community jumped into action to help from the moment the house went up in flames.
Ryan ran out of the home without shoes and was upset because he was out in the street barefoot.
“Somebody asked what size he had, and moments later somebody showed up with shoes in the right size. I think they went down to Good Cheer,” Russell said.
South Whidbey resident Marion Henny donated a place for them to stay for a few nights, but now the family is looking for a permanent home to rent that is big enough for them and allows their pets. The insurance will help. In the meantime, they will have to make do with temporary housing.
Russell said she wants those who helped to know how appreciated the help has been.
“If something like this has to happen, at least it happened here. This is an amazing community and we feel very loved,” she said.
The Readiness to Learn Foundation and the Family Resource Center are coordinating efforts to help the family. A fund drive and item donations are under way.
The family is in need of clothing and coats — even shoes.
Emmalee is a petite 8 year-old, her brother Ryan is 14 and wears a size medium in most of his clothing.
Clothes for the adults are also needed. Gift certificates may help.
Everyday-household items are needed as well.
People can bring donations to the Family Resource Center at 5476 Maxwelton Road in Langley from Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
People can also donate funds online through the Readiness To Learn Foundation. The Foundation has set up an account to collect the funds so the family can buy what they need.
Gail LaVassar, executive director of the Readiness to Learn Foundation, where Aimee had volunteered for years, said the family is very strong.
“Aimee is very strong. She overcomes adversity with grace. Now she has a big challenge before her,” she said.
The school district’s homeless liaison is working with the family to identify more specific needs as they arise, said Amanda Fisher of the Readiness to Learn Foundation.
“Right now they are so in shock it has been hard to focus on next steps,” Fisher said. The Readiness to Learn Foundation is helping streamline the delivery of donations.
Fisher, whose son Ronin attends elementary school with Emmalee, said it has been a traumatic experience for the family, and it is difficult to establish a sense of normalcy for the kids after an event like that.
“She showed up at school without a backpack. They had a bird project due. I know she didn’t have time to redo that this weekend. And she needs a costume for the musical,” Fisher said.
However, the school district and families at the school do what they can to help.
“They had a coat waiting for her this morning,” Fisher said Monday.
Emmalee is in the “Wizard of Oz” school musical and the teachers and school district arranged that the show will be a fundraiser as well.
“The teachers working on the musical have agreed to offer it as a fundraiser for the family, and Emmalee is one of the performers so it is perfect,” Fisher said.
Emmalee’s costume also burned, but her mother said she will be on stage ready to perform no matter what.
“Oh, yes, she will be in the musical. There is no doubt about that. She is such a cool little girl,” Russell said.
The musical is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16 in the old primary school gym.
Donations to help the Russell/Johnson family with immediate needs are being coordinated through Readiness To Learn Foundation where Aimee is closely affiliated though her volunteer work and participation with the foundation’s programs. If you are able to help, donate online at rtl-foundation.org, or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 280 or in person at the South Whidbey Family Resource Center. Make a note on your donation that says Russell/Johnson family.