Emily Stevers and her husband, Chad, started the Fire Relief Foundation after losing their Findlay home to a fire in June 2013. Fortunate that no one was home during the fire, their home and belongings were destroyed. It was a daunting task to replace all that they and daughters Lexi, 19, and Kylee, 11, and son, Carsen, 9, had lost.
The foundation assists with insurance paperwork, and maintains a “shop,” where victims can get what they need for a year after a fire. Items, donated by the community, include gently used clothing, household items, furniture, appliances, toiletries, books, games, decor, kitchen items, and baby needs.
In two years, they have helped about 200 families, and as of April 2016, 39 adults and 57 kids. Emily Stevers said she receives calls from all over the country, because when people look for help on the Internet, they see the Fire Relief Foundation. Long-term help after a fire is rare, and Stevers offers advice on how to start a long-term fire assistance program to other areas.
Describe the fire that destroyed your home:
My husband and I were already at work that day and our kids were with grandma. We both received phone calls from neighbors, but we were both working an hour away in opposite directions. I don’t remember anything about the drive. My entire body was numb and I was physically ill.
What were your thoughts upon seeing the damage? Who helped you?
The major damage was to the back of the house, so when I pulled in I was thinking it wasn’t too bad. Then I went around back and I couldn’t stand. Later they had us walk through the inside. Life was never the same after that. It’s going to sound weird, but we were lucky because our house was still standing and we could go through and remember and do our inventory and cry and teach our children to find the good things in the bad.
How did you get back on your feet?
We had a couple tough years. It’s emotionally draining to lose everything you own and inventory, and save receipts and catalog for depreciation, which makes you remember all of the stuff you lost and the memories that went with it.
What services do you provide to families whose home has been damaged or lost in a fire? How does the process work?
Families are referred to us by The Red Cross and fire departments. Everything is free to families in the shop. We provide insurance paperwork assistance— which can take up to two years to complete— and also connect families with partner businesses, donors, services, and more. Example: Only one month after the fire in a business and apartment building downtown on Jan. 23 we had provided over $26,000 in assistance of new/used goods and services. Without us, there is no long term help.
Why can families come for a whole year after the fire for replacement items?
Our agency helps for an entire year because fire is a unique tragedy. Most families acquire items over a lifetime that cannot be fully obtained in one season or even an entire year, especially when they are in duress. When a fire happens, the community reaches out to help but that naturally dies down. If your fire is in June and summer clothing was donated to you, what will you do when winter comes and the insurance claim still isn’t settled?
How can members of the community help?
The thing we need most is monetary assistance. We often don’t qualify for grants and other types of assistance because we are a new concept and unique. We need that “one big break” to help us financially. We run solely on volunteers, so that is another way to help.
Are there certain items that you need most for the shop?
Clothes and toys in good condition, items for tweens, NEW packages of socks and underwear for men, women and kids, crock pots, garbage cans, brooms and dust pans…basically anything you would need when starting over. We would love to be able to purchase new mattresses for our families.
If a family needs help, what should they do?
Contact us! We verify the fire with the fire department / Red Cross in their area and then fire victims can come in and take what they need. If you hear of someone who has suffered from a fire and want to help, I recommend donating meals, food gift cards or gift cards to a shoe store.
How has the fire that destroyed your home changed your life – and what is your hope for others in a similar situation?
The fire forever changed our lives. We chose to take the lessons learned and ease the burdens of others so they have an easier time on this journey than we did. Turn the tragedy into a positive – not for ourselves but for people we can absolutely empathize with. When we first looked into our kids eyes after the fire and they had questions of, “When can I get a new blankie?” and, “What about my favorite Legos?” and we had no answers of security and certainty. As a parent, not being able to provide your kids with those answers is crushing. So now, every parent who comes to us for help can have an answer right away for their kids.
Emily Stevers, Founder of the Fire Relief Foundation
The Fire Relief Foundation will hold a Buckeye Tailgate Party fundraising event on starting at 12pm Sept. 17 on Crawford Street in Downtown Findlay. Entertainment will include live music, food, libations, the Ohio State football game on a large screen, a corn hole tournament, silent auction and more. Visit firerelieffoundation.org for more information.
Findlay Fire Station #5 at the Children’s Museum
As a board member, Stevers helped to bring Findlay Fire Station #5 to the Children’s Museum of Findlay through a partnership between the Red Cross, Jerry Greer and the Findlay Fire Department, and the Fire Relief Foundation. It was built as part of an Eagle Scout project by Jake Radabaugh, the son of one of Stever’s friends. Stevers thought of the exhibit after experiencing the fire that took her home, and hopes it will promote fire safety awareness.