Susan MacNeil, principal of Pearson Road Elementary School, holds a donated T-shirt up to Lorelei Mitchner for size on Saturday.
Lorelei Mitchner experienced the most terrifying moments of her life when her Kelowna duplex unit caught fire five days ago, but now that fear has been replaced by gratitude.
Mitchner was among 12 residents, including seven children, who escaped Tuesday's blaze at the duplex on Bolotzky Court near Hollywood Road North. Two pet cats died.
"It was so terrifying - so, so scary," said Mitchner, a single mother of four children ages one to 13.
"It was definitely burned in my memory forever. I'll never forget it. Our whole world was flipped upside down."
She still cries every time she remembers everything she owned is gone. The duplex was covered by insurance, but Mitchner and the residents of the other unit had no contents insurance.
When Susan MacNeil, principal of nearby Pearson Road Elementary School, found out the blaze affected two families with children in her school, she put the word out and donations started pouring in.
"I can't believe the love and support of everybody," Mitchner said Saturday with tears in her eyes as she folded clothing dropped off at the school. "Everybody is struggling themselves, and for them to open their hearts and pockets, it's absolutely amazing and incredible. This Rutland community is just awesome. It's been hugely appreciated and needed."
Both families received emergency social service assistance of three nights' stay at the Sandman Hotel. Mitchner and her kids are now staying with her sister. As for the occupants of the other unit, grandparents, their daughter, her three children and another adult are looking for accommodation.
An aunt of Mitchner works for Stutters Disaster Kleenup, which immediately supplied beds and a crib.
On Wednesday morning, school staff collected $700. During packed school concerts Wednesday afternoon and evening, MacNeil talked about the family's desperate need for help and another $400 was received. Staff at the nearby Interior Savings branch donated $150. A major retailer in Rutland offered to put the family up for a week at The Delta Grand hotel.
Kindergarten teacher Isabel Vicente, who has five-year-old Isabel Mitchner in her class, immediately sent a letter home to parents on learning of the fire.
"The next morning, I was bombarded with money (and) bags of things. My room was filled. It was just overwhelming. I've been at this school for about 18 years, and whenever there is a crisis, they all come together," Vicente said.
"Isabel (Mitchner) was supposed to go to another kindergarten class. I fought to have her in my class because she has my name. I've never had an Isabel. She's just a little doll. I love her," said Vicente with a laugh.
"In a community like this where some families have experienced need themselves, it absolutely brings tears to your face because they give so much when they have not so much themselves necessarily," said MacNeil.
Some parents donated cash while wishing they could give more.
"So many of those needed that money themselves, but it's typically people who understand what it's like to be without who try to find whatever they can to give," MacNeil said.
The school is temporarily storing donations of clothing, toys and other small items during the Christmas break. Although some want to donate larger items, MacNeil plans to issue another appeal for those when classes resume on Jan. 7 and the Mitchners have figured out what else they still need.
Anyone who would like to make a donation while the school is closed for the holidays can contact MacNeil at 250-215-9334.