Friends, family and strangers from across the Capital Region gathered Sunday at the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 351 to raise $500 for the victims of a Dec. 8 Gloversville fire.
Tonya Walendziak was Christmas shopping when the blaze ripped through the upstairs of her two-floor home on North Street, but her eight children and their two baby sitters were home at the time. All eight children, who range in age from 1 to 16, and both baby sitters escaped uninjured.
“You can’t really get personal when you give to the organizations, and this, a little part of me goes with it,” said Suzanne Brooks, a city resident who organized the event after hearing about the fire on the radio. “Hopefully, it will help them get things straightened around.
“I can’t even imagine Tonya’s position, raising eight and then dealing with a fire on top of it,” said Brooks, who did not know Walendziak before the fire. “It’s just my way of trying to help the best I can.”
Sunday’s fundraiser included an auction, raffle, buffet and band. Donors paid a minimum of $10 at the door for admission to the benefit, which lasted from 2 to 6 p.m.
Walendziak stayed in a hotel room paid for by the American Red Cross with her kids for six days before she was able to move back home last month. She is still in the process of having the house repaired. She said she was thankful her house was not as badly damaged as a recent city fire on Park Street that claimed a life.
“Every time we ride by there, we thank God that it didn’t come out like that,” she said. “It’s really nice that they’d take time away from their family to help mine.”
When the fire broke out in an upstairs bedroom, three of Walendziak’s daughters ran downstairs to alert the baby sitters. Walendziak said fire investigators think that the fire started when one of the girls was playing with a lighter.
John Morrisoon lives next door to Walendziak and was one of the baby sitters that day. He ran upstairs to try to put it out with a bucket of water.
Meanwhile, Walendziak’s 13-year-old daughter Caitlynn rushed to get all of her brothers and sisters outside.
“I got all the kids out and went to [Morrisoon’s] house to call the cops,” Caitlynn said. “I love my brothers and sisters.”
After everyone was safe, she went back into the house to get photos of her late brother, Jacob, who died when he was 3 years old.
Schenectady resident Gary Warner, leader of the country music band “NV,” only charged organizers $50 for gas money instead of the normal $280 fee to play for four hours.
“We’d like to help out a burnout victim, a family in crisis,” he said. “We did what we can to help and pitch in.”
Warner had never met the Walendziak family, and he said that his band members came to Gloversville from as far away as Saratoga and Albany.
“If I was a burnout victim like that I’m sure people would pull together for me,” Warner said. “You try to wear your heart on the sleeve a little bit.”
Wendy Tyler came to the fundraiser on Sunday because her husband Ken is also in the band. Her home burned down shortly after Christmas many years ago when she was just 6 years old.
“We had people help out. We didn’t have this kind of a thing going on back then,” she said. “It’s something you never forget in your whole life. You can still smell the smoke.”
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