Last Sunday afternoon, people were at the Whiting Community Center enjoying the Whiting Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce flea market. Twenty-four hours later, people were there sorting through bags of clothing and other donations to help 10 families whose apartments were destroyed in a devastating fire.
The beautiful old building on the corner of 119th Street and Sheridan Avenue is no more. At this writing, the street is still cordoned off and the ice-covered shell makes it look like that frozen house from "Dr. Zhivago." People stop, take photos, or just stare in shocked silence.
The fire, which began around 5 p.m. Sunday, spread quickly, but our wonderful firefighters from Whiting, East Chicago, and Hammond fought valiantly and saved the other buildings on the block.
But like the Phoenix, Whiting has before and will again rise from the ashes of this huge fire.
Why? Because our people rally together.
Mandy Edge, a waitress at the Bulldog Brewery, was taking her break outdoors when a woman with her little dog wandered down the street, still in her nightgown, dazed by the smoke in her apartment. Mandy offered the woman her shoes, coat and cell phone so the woman could call her husband.
By this time, police were closing the rest of the establishments on the street, so Mandy drove the woman to her mother-in-law's home.
In the rush and confusion, the women did not even exchange names, but a few hours later, Mandy received a phone call from the woman's husband. Tracing her from the initial phone call, he offered his deep gratitude for her help.
Theresa Zvonar had taken her daughters and their friends out for pizza. Returning home, they saw the fire and the girls decided they needed to do something to help. So the Elks donated their lodge and word went out on Face book that they'd be collecting clothes Monday morning.
There was literally a traffic jam in front of the Elks Lodge when I arrived. People were dragging bags of clothes, toys, winter coats, toiletries, pillows and blankets to the donation area.
By noon, all these donations went to the Whiting Community Center auditorium lobby and more just kept coming.
The sixth-graders who came up with the idea, Kalie Zvonar, Ella Zvonar, Alexis Santos, Alyssa Roldan, Celeste Alvarado, Julia Cavazos, and Mary Markusic, worked the desk, accepting monetary donations, while volunteers did the Herculean task of sorting the clothing by size.
At least four of the fire victim families came in to get clothing.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the house," Theresa said. "They were so overwhelmed by the outpouring of help and concern."
A bank account for donations will soon be established, but until then, the Elks Lodge is accepting checks. The moneys collected will be divided among the 10 families. If you would like to donate, you can send your check made out to the Whiting Elks Club, with "fire victims" in the memo line, to the Whiting Elks Club, P.O. Box 668, Whiting, IN 46394.
You may also contact Theresa Zvonar at (219) 789-3861 to donate household items.