HAMLET — When her house burned down three days before Christmas, Kaylee Sweet didn’t know what the future held for her and her family.
The fire destroyed everything they owned, including her children’s Christmas presents, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Her sister, Alisha Williams, along with family friend Rex Boone, a lieutenant with the East Rockingham Fire Department, posted on Facebook asking for donations of basic clothes and food.
“I was scared all around and after I saw the first few donations come in — and then more and more — I was able to smile a little bit,” Sweet said. “Anything and everything we needed, we got.”
Boone’s two Facebook posts were shared seven times and had 18 reactions total. Williams’ post in the “One Man’s Junk Richmond County NC” Facebook group was shared 12 times and received 12 reactions. Boone was in charge of collecting most of the donations. He said they included about $160 in cash and gift cards, enough clothes for Sweet, her boyfriend, Chris McCall, and their two children, ages 10 and two months, and two new bicycles.
“I didn’t think I would get any help at all but people donated money and clothes to make Christmas for them,” Boone said.
The Sandhills Chapter of the Red Cross donated $1,100 in emergency funds for the family to stay in a hotel for two nights and take care of other immediate needs while they look for a stable living situation, according to Sweet’s mother, Cindy Sweet. The four stayed with Williams for Christmas.
“It was a very good Christmas considering everything,” Kaylee Sweet said. “Everything I had bought (for the children’s Christmas presents) got replaced.”
She added that Tuesday was the first day since the fire the family could “lay around and relax our minds a little.”
The family’s housing situation is still uncertain. Kaylee Sweet said staying with Williams is a short-term solution, and that they need to move closer to the children’s school before it starts back in January. Her mother said there is a “massive cleanup” needed at the site of the fire, if they were to consider putting a new trailer there, to make it a safe environment for the children.
The house had been in the family for 30 years, and the elder Sweet said she put her “heart, sweat and tears” into keeping it for that long.
“I’d give it all up again as long as I’d still get to see my grandbabies smile everyday,” Cindy Sweet said. “The materialistic stuff is no comparison, I can replace everything back there…I’m just grateful to have my grandbabies.”
Kaylee Sweet said it took a few days for the eldest child to grasp what happened. She said she thinks the reality sank in when his grandmother took him to Laurinburg to replace his shoes and he was in “bad spirits,” but he cheered up when he got his presents on Christmas. Kaylee said the youngest, who was the only member of the family inside when the fire started, has been waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares.
The East Rockingham Fire Department has not yet determined the exact cause of the fire. Kaylee Sweet said she believes it was related to electrical issues they had been having the previous week.
The fire department received the call of the fire at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 22, according to Deputy Fire Chief Bill Bayless. He said it took about three hours to get the fire under control. The house was a “total loss,” meaning everything inside was destroyed. He estimated the cost of damages at $75,000.
“I’m very happy that we’re ok — I cannot stress enough how grateful I am,” Kaylee Sweet said. “(The support) really helped turn our spirits around. It could have been a lot worse so I’m thankful for what we do have.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.