It was late on March 3rd and Chemikia and her husband Thalese White had just left to purchase some food for the next day’s meal when she received a heart-stopping call from her daughter alerting her the family’s home was on fire. She hoped it was just an unfunny joke, and then she heard the panic in her daughter’s voice.
“’No, mommy. A fire. A real fire!’ At that point, I was screaming and thought, ‘oh my gosh, I need to call 911!’”
Chemikia called 911 from her husband’s phone while still on the phone with her daughter. As they approached their St. Helena, SC home, they could see huge flames coming from the house. She implored the dispatcher to send firetrucks as soon as possible.
They could hear the fire engine sirens on neighboring streets. Since the house was set far back from the road, Chemika jumped in the car to flag down the firetrucks to lead them to the house.
“At this point, the house was completely engulfed in flames,” Chemikia recalled. “It was devasting because all we could do was sit there and watch it burn down and watch everything go.”
After the firefighters put the fire out and recovered what they could, they informed the family The American Red Cross would be calling that night. Chemikia was shocked by the quick outreach from the Red Cross volunteers.
“We got the first call twenty minutes later to capture our information,” she said about the response of the Red Cross Disaster Actions Teams, who remain on call 24/7. “We received the direct payment just hours after the fire – it was a great help. I don’t know what we would have done without it. We had absolutely nothing.”
The family escaped the house fire with only the clothes on their backs. The financial assistance provided the family the ability to pay for their immediate needs such as clothes, food, and a safe place to stay.
“It filled my heart because this was a nighttime fire, and my son was barefoot – he didn’t have any shoes – neither did my daughter,” said Chemikia on what the financial assistance meant to her family. “The children were in their nightclothes, and it was cold. We used the money to buy clothes, shoes, food, toothbrush, deodorant - things that you wouldn’t think are valuable.”
While the family sat together in their hotel room, overwhelmed with the devastating loss of their home, they were comforted by the support and assistance they’d received.
“The friendliness of the people, the phone calls, the kind words—we had a counselor call, we had a nurse calling to ask about our prescriptions and medical care—everyone was so kind. It was just amazing,” said Chemikia.
HOW TO HELP: You can help families like the Whites recover from devasting home fires by becoming a “Hometown Hero.” The American Red Cross of South Carolina responds to an average of six home fires every day. In many cases, the families impacted lose everything. You can help support these families by providing them the financial assistance they need for a place to stay, food, and clothing. Become a Hometown Hero by clicking here or visit www.redcross.org/HometownHero.