After a Christmas morning fire destroyed their Round Hill area home, a family of eight is rebuilding their lives with the help of their neighbors.
At 3 a.m. Dec. 25, an unattended candle ignited a fire that engulfed Matt Arbogast’s home—a home that he, his niece Alex Ventura, her husband and their five children, aged six months to 7 years old, called home. Although everyone, along with two dogs and a cat, safely escaped, the 1,113-square-foot house was ruled a total loss with $222,000 in damages.
After realizing that there were children involved, firefighters from the county, Round Hill, Purcellville and Philomont determined that their job wouldn’t be done once the fire was out.
Brad Quin, president of the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Company, said that when his crews returned to the station, they quickly gathered the leftover toys from December’s Toys for Tots campaign to give the five children whose Christmas gifts were burned in the fire.
“It was really a great way to conclude what is a horrific situation for little kids,” Quin said. “It was just a good circumstance that transpired out of a bad one.”
The support for the family didn’t end on Christmas Day; the community at-large is stepping up to help the families recover their losses and get back to a normal life.
The American Red Cross was the first to help them out, by giving Arbogast and the Ventura family prepaid credit cards to pay for lodging, food and other immediate needs, according to David Chesler, the disaster program manager for the Red Cross in Loudoun and Prince William Counties.
On the web, a Go Fund Me page created by Arbogast’s former mother-in-law, Julie Dunson, has already raised nearly $2,500 for the family. Dunson said the campaign’s $3,500 goal will help Arbogast and the Venturas move into a new home and maybe buy some furniture. “I can not believe the donations—it’s just been amazing,” she said.
The Round Hill United Methodist Church is also collecting monetary donations through its website. According to Dan Whetsell, the chairman of the church’s council, the congregation also made contributions through an additional offering during its recent Sunday worship service.
“It’s been a very generous response from the community,” he said. “We want to help any way we can.”
Aside from helping the family financially, Round Hill Elementary School Parent Liaison Somphane Jones has helped solicit donations of clothing and day-to-day necessities like toothpaste, laundry detergent and diapers. Residents have been making those donations by dropping them off at the Methodist church.
“Within 24 hours, a lot of their essential needs were met,” Jones said. “It just never ceases to amaze me just how this community comes together.”
The Purcellville Volunteer Fire Company is also accepting donations at its station.
Kelly Aldorisio, the executive director of It Takes a Village Baby—a nonprofit that assists families-in-need who are expecting newborns—said that the organization reached out to Jones to see if it could help by collecting baby supplies for the Ventura’s two youngest children.
Although many of the family’s personal belongings were lost in the fire, some of their most important items were either not completely burned up or not there when the fire broke out.
Dunson said that family photos and a guitar that Arbogast’s late father gave him were burned, but not destroyed. A set of home movies was also escaped destruction because Arbogast lent them to his brother a week earlier. “That stuff you can’t replace,” Dunson said.