On Tuesday, May 8, a group of about 15 community volunteers from Gulfport met with members of a local family who survived a recent house fire to determine their needs and established a long-term plan for fundraising.
The Thomas family’s Tangerine Ave. S. home burned on Tuesday, May 1. Sharon Thomas and her two adult children, Shanicke and Dezmyne, escaped unharmed but they lost their vehicle, many possessions and pet dog in the fire.
Community-based fundraising efforts began the next day.
At the May 8 meeting, the family was presented with an initial check for over $3,550 from the Gulfport Neighbors, a local 501(c)(3) non-profit that is acting as the point organization for fund distributions. Maddy Guenther, president of the local non-profit MY Foundation, also gave the family a check totaling $500.
“There is no possibility of going back to the house to live,” said Thomas. “The roof has completely come off.” The family is currently living with Thomas’ older sister who also lives in Gulfport.
During the meeting, family members said that they have been able to recover many clothing items but all are smoke damaged and in need of special cleaning. They also recovered a laptop that Shanicke is using to take college-level online accounting courses.
“I’m wearing my sister’s clothes,” said Thomas.
Thomas paid off her home about two months ago and on the day of the fire she was unclear as to whether or not her insurance was still active. She has since contacted them and has filed a claim.
“In two to three days, they are going to inspect the house and tell me what they can do for me,” said Thomas.
Until the insurance inspection has been completed, the family has been advised to stop trying to clean the damage caused by the fire.
“They said it was OK to take out the clothes,” said Thomas.
If possible, Thomas wants to rebuild her home.
During the meeting, it was determined the family’s immediate needs include laundry cleaning supplies and services, legal and financial advocacy, storage space for furniture that is being donated and help with home clean up and item recovery after the insurance inspection.
One long-time neighbor, Pia Goff, has provided Thomas with an older vehicle that was not being used by her family. Another has made arrangements for a general contractor to donate time and materials depending on the outcome of the insurance inspection. The city of Gulfport is providing a dumpster and waste removal services for free.
“The insurance company has to give them 100 days notice before dropping them after they paid off the house,” said Diane Griffith, a local attorney and accountant who has volunteered to be their advocate.
The group decided to continue fundraising efforts to augment any insurance money that may be awarded to help with the family’s effort to rebuild their home.
Said Gail Biron, assistant to the Gulfport chief of police, to the Thomas family: “We’ve got you on this.”
How to Donate Money
The Gulfport Historical Society is accepting online donations for the family at
squareup.com/market/gulfport-historical-society-inc/item/tangerine-avenue-fire-donation. The Gulfport History Museum is also accepting cash, check and credit card donations. The money will be turned over to Gulfport Neighbors to directly help the family. In addition, checks made out to Gulfport Neighbors can be brought by the Gulfport Police Department, 2401 53rd St. S., Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, contact Gail Biron, assistant to the police chief, at 727-893-1049.
Where to Get Fundraising Information
Over the next several months and possibly into 2019, local restaurant owners will be assisting community groups and volunteers with methods for fundraising, said Veronica Champion, owner of the Peninsula Inn and one of five local restaurateurs attending the meeting.
A public Facebook page has been set up where fundraising efforts and other announcements will be published as information becomes available: facebook.com/ThomasFamilyTangerineFireFund.