A Hampstead family who lost their home in a fire last week enjoyed an "absolutely wonderful" Christmas even though they spent the holiday in a cramped motel room with a tiny tree.
"The generosity and kindness of everyone -- neighbors, friends, co-workers, everyone from church and even strangers -- has been overwhelming," said Debbie Sherman, a single mother whose two-story town house on Century Drive was destroyed by fire Dec. 20.
"I've been too busy taking care of necessities and the girls to feel sorry for myself."
The family lost nearly all of its possession during the morning blaze, the cause of which has not been determined. State fire marshals said the fire broke out in the living room and estimated the damage at $200,000, including $50,000 for contents.
"Firemen saved this from the front door," Sherman said, pointing to a holiday wreath hanging on her motel room wall. "The red bow was damaged, but I put a new one on."
Since the fire, the family has experienced countless acts of kindness.
Sherman, 43, a secretary at the Carroll County Health Department, is keeping track of the generosity, filing scribbled notes in a folder in a makeshift desk in her motel room.
She spoke fondly of people like Jennifer Heilman, the neighbor who first called.
"She just turned over her home as a headquarters to make and receive telephone calls," Sherman said.
Red Cross volunteers quickly arrived to offer aid, providing toiletries and other essentials.
"They think of everything," she said. "The Red Cross package even had a hair dryer."
The Rev. Marina Flores, Sherman's friend and pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Hampstead, provided lodging in her own home for the first few nights and organized a donation drive for clothing, food and money.
The Rev. Kerry Mueller, Sherman's pastor at the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists Church in Finksburg, also provided donations. So did members of the Hampstead Baptist Church and the Full Gospel Church of Phoenix in Baltimore County.
When the brakes on Sherman's car failed, Eddie Stromberg, an Eldersburg mechanic and husband of her friend, Linda, made repairs at no cost. Cindy Feld, her work supervisor, offered the family a station wagon loaded with food and clothing from co-workers.
Nancy Tutor and Stacy Hann, school nurses at Spring Garden Elementary and North Carroll Middle schools organized a shopping spree at Caldor in Westminster for Sherman's daughters, Beth Ann, 14, Laura Lee, 11 and Sarah Jane, 9, to purchase new clothes.
Relatives of her former husband offered use of a Pennsylvania cabin in the Poconos for four nights.
Neighborhood children went door to door, collecting donations.
The list goes on and on.
"Everyone couldn't possibly have been more generous and supportive," Sherman said.
Despite the support, Sherman knows it will be two to four months before her family can return to its Hampstead home.
The fire began soon after Sherman left for work about 8: 10 a.m. Sarah Jane was already off to Spring Garden Elementary School. Beth Ann and Laura Lee had left a few minutes later to ride with friends to North Carroll Middle School.
Firefighters have speculated that the cause may have been electrical.
"The television was melted, and nothing was left of the chair next to it," Sherman said.
Dolly, the family's cocker spaniel, was rescued by neighbors, but Pretty Boy, a pet fish named for his golden body and purple fins, did not survive.
A Hampstead veterinarian provided a free check-up for Dolly.
One of the family's four adopted stray cats is still missing, but Sherman believes it is hiding in the ruins and will reappear.
"The girls and I have some counseling sessions to get through," she said. "They're having a very hard time dealing with this, but I know we'll get through it."
Sherman said she wants to start a support group for fire victims in the county. She also wants to organize a community after-school program for middle school students.
"All they need is a little direction and they can take over doing whatever needs done," said Sherman, offering a computer-generated customized card as evidence of what her daughters' friends did to lift her spirits. It read in part: One-Stop Therapy, Advice and Lend-an-Ear Shop. Miss Debbie Free! Everyone else $1.
"This whole experience has renewed my faith in the people of Carroll County," Sherman said. "I wouldn't ever want to live anywhere else."
Pub Date: 12/29/96