Melissa Schwarz, president of the Westchester Elementary School PTA, had a feeling that a fire on Frederick Road in Catonsville last Thursday night might have affected a family in her school’s community because of its location.
When she went to check with the school Friday morning, she was beat to the punch.
“Before I could pick up the phone, it rang, and it was the school calling me, saying [the victims were] one of our Westchester families. [The school] had already been in touch with the family and had a list together of what items were needed in the immediate future,” Schwarz said.
The list of needed items was put online and quickly began to fill up. Dozens of people signed on to donate gift cards to gas stations and grocery stores and articles of clothing, from undergarments to gloves to winter coats.
“We knew [the family] needed support at this time, and this is an extremely giving and supportive community,” said Racheal Jones, a guidance counselor at Westchester Elementary.
Volunteers are still collecting some items and gift cards for the family, who county officials and others did not identify for privacy reasons.
Jones has been working with the family and with others at Westchester Elementary to ensure donations make it from drop-off points in the school to the family members, because they have not been able to return to the Frederick Road home. The student or students affected by the fire have not yet returned to school, a Westchester staff member said.
The family — a couple, two daughters, and a total of four grandchildren — are staying with other family members in Upper Marlboro, said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Greater Chesapeake Region of the American Red Cross.
McIntire said the Red Cross provided some immediate assistance to the family and is working to help them find more permanent housing. The Red Cross is also able to help the family figure out how to get new copies of important documents and to offer mental health services.
“Any situation like this is obviously very traumatic,” McIntire said. “You’re not thinking clearly, your mind is elsewhere, so we step in to help with that focus.”
Nobody was injured in the one-alarm that about 20 units responded to, according to Armacost. No information was available on the damage to the single-family building. The cause of the fire is under investigation, Armacost said.
Frederick Road was temporarily shut down between Old Frederick Road and Westchester Avenue.
Schwarz said “nothing like this” has happened in the six years in which she has been involved with the PTA.
“It’s a very hard time of year to suffer such a great loss,” she said. But, there has “been a really wonderful outpouring of support from the community. The community really comes together to help.”