Kasey Dunbar tried to fight back tears Friday as people came to her in the front office of Merriwether Elementary School.
They hugged her and told her to contact them if she needed anything. But as Dunbar thanked them for helping her and her family, tears slowly flowed from her eyes.
Just two days before, Dunbar and her two children lost their home to a fire. Her oldest daughter, 6-year-old Aniyah Reynolds, is a first-grader at the school, and her other daughter, Shakayla, is 3.
Around 3 a.m. Dec. 14, Dunbar was abruptly awakened when her friend quickly woke up and sensed something was wrong.
All they saw was smoke.
“I ran to get my babies, but the smoke was so thick, I couldn’t see them,” she said. “So I just reached out and grabbed for them.”
Everyone was able to get out of the home safely, but almost everything was damaged by the flames or smoke. Dunbar said she wasn’t sure of the cause, but suspected it might have been a space heater, she said Friday.
“Everything got messed up except the presents and the ornament with my baby’s (Aniyah’s) picture,” which was on the Christmas tree, she said.
When she realized how much they had lost, she felt overwhelmed.
“I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
In stepped her older sister, Merriwether Elementary and the community.
Her sister took the family in and let the school know what had happened. The school didn’t hesitate to start doing what it could to help.
“We immediately started calling people when we found out,” said Principal Wayne Marchant. “We wanted to do whatever we could to help the family.”
An announcement was made at the school, and members of the community were notified. They, too, quickly responded.
Before noon Friday, Marchant’s office was filled with storage bins, boxes and bags containing clothing, toys, toiletries and household items for the family.
Community members and organizations also donated furniture and have given monetary donations totaling about $3,300 for the family. Aiken Electric Cooperative has also agreed to help the family with their electricity.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Marchant said of the response.
A neighbor offered to let the family move into a home he owns next door to the home they lost, Dunbar said.
“Everyone has been so helpful,” she said.
“I never thought people would help us like this. They have done so much for us and I appreciate it. I really didn’t know what to do that night. I’m so thankful for my sister and for everyone who has helped us.”