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A new place to call home for Christmas
Cristina Evanow had a garage full of donations that still needed to be sorted, but the woman at her door was insistent – there must be something the family still needed after losing its home in a fire.
Evanow thought for a moment, then suggested the family of six didn’t have any end tables or lamps, and two of her teenage sons no longer had ski pants.
The woman returned with all of it – two new end tables, a set of four new lamps of different varieties, and two pairs of ski pants.
She wasn’t sure the snow gear would fit, so she gave Cristina the receipt, for $200.
“It’s unbelievable, the lengths some people will go to, to help,” said Cristina, sitting at a dining room table in her cozy new home on Wicklow Way, reflecting on all of the good things that have happened to her family in the past month.
A suspicious fire took the home of Bill and Cristina Evanow on Nov. 13.
They were still watching firefighters working at their old place, at 223rd St. and 119th Ave. in the heart of downtown Maple Ridge, when people started to help. The kids were all standing around barefoot. If they had been in that house another two or three minutes, firefighters told them, there is a good chance some may not have gotten out.
A neighbour took notice of 20-year-old Jessica Evanow’s bare feet, went home, and came back with some shoes for her.
“They didn’t fit, but they were shoes,” Cristina said.
“The response was immediate,” Bill said. “The fire wasn’t out yet, and we had people offering to help.”
Their neighbours – Kim, Pam and Mandy – took them in that morning, at 6 a.m., and gave them a place to collect themselves. Then their hosts started collecting donations.
The days after the fire were tough on Bill. The family had no insurance. His daughter went to stay with a friend, but the couple and their three teenage sons were staying at the Quality Inn, as they searched for a new rental house.
They had to go through the burned-out place they called home for eight years, rescuing smoky smelling family photos and other mementos.
“It was devastating to walk through,” Bill said.
It was virtually a total loss.
“We were scrambling,” he added. “You’re homeless, and you start to realize how close you were to the loss of life. It’s hard to even focus.”
The community they have called home for 18 years came to their rescue.
“I’ve been blown away, every day since the fire,” said Cristina.
Bill’s brother Pete took charge of donations. He set up an email account for people to contact the family if they wanted to help, and soon all of the trappings of a comfortable life started to come to the family.
Eventually, Cristina started to manage the email account – there were 86 messages from donors for her to respond to.
She estimates there were 50 individuals.
The family has been given flat screen televisions, two desktop computers and a laptop, a king-size bed and bedroom furniture. A local realtor gave them a $100 cheque. The list goes on.
“It’s been absolutely amazing, the support from the community,” said Cristina. “They have donated custom-made couches, incredible dining room tables … One woman asked what I need. I said I really need a vacuum, or an electric griddle. She said, ‘Done. What else?’”
“And these are complete and utter strangers.”
Save-on Foods put up a display asking customers to “Help the Evanow family,” with a newspaper clipping of their story.
The family’s cupboards are now full.
Their new bathroom counter is stocked with bottles of shampoo and toiletries. When Cristina goes to Save-on Foods, a quick trip takes half an hour, because people want to talk about how the family is doing.
“I need a disguise. It’s almost overwhelming.”
They needed to renovate their new home to create a bedroom for Jessica. Standard Building Supplies of Burnaby had a truck deliver a full pallet of wood, drywall, insulation and materials, worth about $1,000, Bill estimates.
Rona gave him electrical supplies at cost.
“It’s incredible. You’ve never met them – they’re in and out of your life in seconds,” Bill said “ … it’s just feelings of warmth and gratitude.”
Family friend Bill Treen is donating his carpentry skills to help get the new room built. His son went to school with Jessica.
One of the Evanow boys, Liam, played football for Samuel Robertson Technical, and the Titans family came through with furniture, gift cards, school lunches for him and more.
The Social Justice Group and the school also came to help.
Cristina used to sing in the choir at St. Paul’s Church, and a flood of donations came from there.
Daniel Evanow goes to Maple Ridge secondary, and that school has been collecting donations for the family, as well, and are due to arrive any day.
“We’re not really lacking a heck of a lot,” Bill said.
The family actually has a choice of furniture, and some will be donated back to local charities.
“I’m just so grateful for all the support we’ve received,” said Cristina.
All is not perfect, though.
Cristina teaches English as a Second Language, and all of her materials were damaged in the fire. She had accumulated lots of plants – “like a Greek restaurant” – but none survived the fire.
Their other boy, Matt, lost his basketball jerseys, fitted hats and electronic entertainment. Jessica lost $4,000 worth of furniture, bought for her room with money she earned working at a fast food restaurant. She used to model, but her portfolio was damaged.
Cristina and Bill feel bad for the kids.
But they are happy in their new home, as it takes shape.
“It’s beautiful – a real comfortable feel to it.”
“We’ll have a good Christmas,” said Cristina.
“We’re alive, we’re here together, and we’re going to be good.”
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