Originally created 03/09/99

School gives help to families



Children at Bayvale Elementary school began collecting pennies last month with the idea of helping a needy child in their neighborhood.

They had no idea the money would be needed to help 12 of their classmates, left homeless recently after an apartment fire.

"It was almost as if someone told us to do it," Principal Cheryl Fry said of the coincidental penny-drive. "We weren't sure where the money would go, then this happened."

So far the pupils have collected about $150, and the school is collecting clothes and food in addition to providing transportation for the children to get to the school from their temporary housing off Sand Bar Ferry Road.

A fire on Valentine's day at 1825 Cooney Circle left three families -- including 21 children -- homeless.

The fire started when a 5-year-old boy set fire to a pillow and tried to coax his 4-year-old brother into not telling, said Candyce Williams, the boys' 12-year-old sister.

The fire spread to two neighboring apartments, which housed other Bayvale pupils.

Candyce, a 5th-grader at Bayvale, is one of nine children who was living in the apartment with her mother Deloris.

"I was at my cousin's house baby-sitting," Candyce said. "My mom and my cousin told me about the fire. When I got home the roof was torn down and the house was burned upstairs. I was scared."

Candyce said the fire burned her books, clothes, shoes and dolls.

"Everybody was home except me," Candyce said. "My 9-year-old brother was upstairs sleeping, but my older brother got him out before the fire got him."

Deloris Williams said she appreciates the school's support.

"My children don't get new clothes but twice a year, that's at the start of school and during Christmas," Mrs. Williams said. "All of their school clothes, books and Christmas presents were destroyed in the fire. Bayvale took up clothes, most of them with tags on them, money and food. I want to thank Bayvale school staff and children for so much support during my time of hardship."

The Levy family saved some of the items in their home but smoke and water damage still forced the family to seek shelter at a temporary apartment.

Precious Levy, 10, was upstairs playing video games with her bother when her stepfather told them to come down and go outside.

"We got all of my stuff out," Precious said. "But it was scary."

Tiffany Sturgis, 10, who lives next door to Precious was cleaning up when her sister told her about the fire.

"I was thinking about my book bag," Tiffany said. "I was mad too, because children shouldn't be playing with matches."

Tiffany is the youngest of 11 children. Most of the family's furnishings also were destroyed in the fire.

One of the things she will miss most is books given to her two years ago by one of her favorite teachers.

Her mother Mary Sturgis said she's just grateful no one was hurt in the fire. Fire department officials estimated about $100,000 in damages.

Candyce and Precious now live in temporary housing next door to each other and Tiffany lives around the corner.

The children said they like their old apartment better because they had more to do.

But they too are thankful for the help they are receiving

"It makes me happy that they care for us," Precious said.

Mrs. Fry said the school began collecting items for the children right away.

They will collect as many items as they can and if any thing is left it will be donated to other agencies, Mrs. Fry said.

"It will be weeks before the families are back in their own homes," she said.

Claudette Martin, a 5th-grade teacher, dropped off a check Monday morning to help the pupils. Tiffany is one of her pupils.

Mrs. Martin said she normally falls asleep before the 11 p.m newscast but on that day she heard the name of the apartment and knew right away that some of her pupils probably were displaced.

"It's something that tears at your heart," Mrs. Martin said. "I don't know all of the students but they are part of our family."

Faith Johnson covers education, she can be reached at 706-823-3765 or faithj@augustachronicle.com.