Funds will help west Mountain family replace lost clothing
When Grade 6 students at Buchanan Park Elementary School learned that their 12-year-old classmate Bailey Vandenberg and her family had lost most of their possessions in a house fire they immediately wanted to help.
A basement fire at the family’s home on West 4th on Jan. 21 left more than $90,000 in damage and forced Bailey, her 15-year-old brother Dean and mother Melissa Vandenberg to move to a downtown hotel.
No one was home at the time of the fire.
“The class and I had a conversation the next day after the fire,” said Darlene Baker, a Grade 6 teacher at Buchanan Park. “There was a lot of conversation about what we could do to help. We knew it had to be a short time line because we wanted to get any help we could to the Vandenberg family ASAP.”
A dance-a-thon and a talent contest were organized and a letter was sent home with all Buchanan Park students seeking support for the family.
“I just let (the students) run with it,” said Baker. “They did the majority of the work.”
In a matter of days the school community responded.
Parents were calling to see if they could help, children from all grades were bringing money from home and from neighbours and some of the students donated their allowance.
About two weeks after the fire Melissa Vandenberg was invited to a school assembly where she was presented with a cheque for $1,500 along with some gift cards the youngsters had collected.
“We were flabbergasted,” said Vandenberg, whose children have attended Buchanan Park for the past 12 years. “The money that everybody came up with just helped me get through this next month.”
Vandenberg said the money will be used to buy clothes and some other items needed by the family.
She noted most of those items were ruined by smoke damage.
Vandenberg said insurance is covering the cost of the hotel and the rebuilding of their home, which is not expected to be finished until June or July.
Students in Baker’s class said they wanted to provide any support they could for their classmate.
“Bailey and her family needed help because their house burned down and they lost a bunch of their stuff,” said 11-year-old Jill Salwach.
“We were really glad that we were able to raise so much money for Bailey and her family,” said 11-year-old Katherine D’Agostino.
“If you’re in the same situation, you want more than anything, support from all your family and friends,” said 11-year-old Milan Gibson.
“You should treat people the way you would like to be treated, so if you were in that situation, you would also want to be helped by your friends,” said 11-tyear-old Anoushka Khanna.
Vandenberg was back at the school on Monday with donuts and muffins for the Grade 6 class.
“I wanted to thank the kids, the teachers and parents for everything they’ve done for us,” she said. “Not only in this crisis, but over the past 12 years.”
Baker said it was incredible but not surprising that a school of just under 200 students was able to raise the funds so quickly.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Terry Fox run, whether it’s jump rope for heart, whether it’s Mac Kids, this community is very generous,” she said.
School principal Scott Lowrey said the effort to help the Vandenbergs reflects a positive school climate.
“This student-lead initiative exemplifies why we are so proud of our students,” said Lowrey via email.