A New Year’s Day Unlike Any Other for this Western North Carolina Family

For the Gainey family, January 1st dawned as a day for relaxation and “family time” after the hustle and bustle of holiday festivities. After enjoying a traditional meal of collard greens and black-eyed peas, Stephen and Lisa settled in for a break in front of the television while the kids enjoyed playing with their new PSP’s in the next room. Little did they know that their calm, idyllic winter afternoon would change in an instant to a scene of panic, fear, and desperation.

The first signal that something was wrong…terribly wrong…came when the Gaineys’ two beloved cats jumped from their owners’ laps and ran away in fear. At the same instant, Stephen and Linda looked at each other in panic as they both registered the first whiffs of acrid smoke – most definitely the harbinger of fire somewhere in their home.

Lisa and Stephen followed the smell of smoke downstairs, where they discovered the entire first floor engulfed in flames. In the midst of their panic, Stephen was able to rush the children to safety outside. As he pushed his daughter, Anna, through the doorway she reminded him of their cats who were still in the home. Stephen tried to find them in the burning house but was unable to save them. Lisa frantically went from apartment to apartment, warning her neighbors to leave the burning complex.

In bare feet and pajamas, the Gainey children huddled in their car to try and keep warm on the cold January afternoon. Twelve-year old Anna tried to comfort her two younger brothers as they watched their home go up in flames. Then, as Anna remembers, “this really comforting and nice lady came up and started telling us everything would be alright, and she gave us covers and these cute little stuffed animals. My brothers started feeling better and I felt better because someone was there, and she just made me feel so good.”

In the midst of this time of despair, help had arrived – in the form of an American Red Cross volunteer caseworker. Judy had received the call regarding the fire and was there just as the Fire Department arrived. She provided the family with blankets, clothing, a hotel room, food, and replacement medications that had been lost in the fire.

The memories of that cold January day are still etched in Stephen’s mind. He says, “In all that grief and despair and confusion of not knowing what you’re gonna’ do, it was nice to have someone there who was telling you it’s gonna’ be okay.” Today, the Gaineys are grateful to all be alive and well, and they credit the American Red Cross volunteers with helping them overcome the devastation. They still see Judy on a regular basis, as she continues to monitor their progress.

Anna, who is much wiser than her years, is quick to volunteer her feelings about the Red Cross. “From my point of view, they were so nice and such good people. They helped us out with pretty much everything….toothbrushes, beds, covers, everything. I just know what they were there for me. I can tell you one thing…I’m NEVER going to forget them.”

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