Over the past five years, Brian and Connie Farquhar of Cecil County have adopted six handicapped children.
They were in Orlando, Fla., last week to pick up their seventh -- a lovable but very ill 1-year-old named Brandon -- when their 15-passenger van caught fire and exploded.
Luckily, nobody was injured. But the Farquhars were stranded in Orlando, with no transportation back to Maryland and no medical equipment for several ill children (they had taken along the rest of their youngsters and some of them were not feeling well).
And then some total strangers came through.
A Rotary International member who was in Florida for the organization's worldwide convention saw the family's story on a newscast. Thenext day, he collected $20,000 in a few hours to pay for a new van.
"I started out in the morning, walking the halls in the convention and, within half an hour, I had pledges for the money," Rotarian Kenneth Erdman of Cheltenham, Pa., said yesterday. He said the story of the Farquhars' misfortune the previous night had moved him.
"I sat on the bed and both my wife and I had tears in our eyes," said Mr. Erdman, a former Baltimore resident whose family owned a farm on Erdman Avenue. "We were spending money for ourselves, why couldn't we spend a little money for somebody else, which is, after all, what we're all about?"
The Farquhars, in addition to picking up Brandon in Orlando, had taken along their entire flock (which now numbers 10, including their seven adopted children) for a vacation at Disney World and Epcot Center. On Friday afternoon, Mrs. Farquhar stayed behind at the motel with five children who were not feeling well, while Mr. Farquhar took the other five for one last trip to Epcot Center before returning to Maryland.
When they arrived at Epcot, they realized their van was on fire.
"As they drove into the parking lot and stopped the van, they saw flames coming from underneath it," Mrs. Farquhar said from Orlando.
"My husband, I don't know how, was able to get all the kids out of it. The youngest two that were there were both 5 years old. The older children got out as soon as they saw what was happening, but the little ones froze and were afraid to get out, and my husband had to pull them out."
Seconds later, the van exploded. Inside were oxygen tanks for three of the children who are severely disabled and a large liquid oxygen base unit used to fill the portable tanks, which caused several more explosions.
"It was an unbelievable fire," Mrs. Farquhar said. In addition to losing the van, the Farquhars lost about $10,000 worth of possessions, mostly medical equipment.
During the weekend, the Farquhars went to a junkyard to check on the van, hoping to find something salvageable. A junkyard workercalled a television station after hearing the story.
Still, the Farquhars were not prepared for the call from the Rotarians. "We were so exhausted and so worn out, and my husband says, 'Oh yeah, you're kidding.' And he said, 'No, I'm the president of Rotary International. This is no joke.' "
Yesterday, the Farquhars received the $20,000 check. "It just amazed us -- $20,000 to us is a whole lot of money, and I couldn't imagine people coming forward with that kind of money for people they don't know," said Mrs. Farquhar.
Mrs. Farquhar said a local medical supply company agreed to lend them some portable oxygen bottles. Without them, the severely disabled children would not be able to leave their rooms.
The Farquhars have been shopping for a van, but they have not been able to find one for less than $23,000. If they can't make a deal in Florida, they will fly back to Maryland and look in this area. Their priority now is to get their children, several of whom are ill and need medical attention, home.