WILSON - Overwhelming community support has lessened the load on a family suffering from the loss of a child in a fire that destroyed their home in Harris shortly after Christmas. The family is now staying in a fully-furnished house rent-free, courtesy of others.
Duaine and Dawn Williams and their two children, eight-year-old twins Nelson and Hailey, were asleep when a fire broke out in their mobile home around 1 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 27. The parents and daughter escaped but the son was trapped inside and died from smoke inhalation.
The three survivors were transported to OSF St. Francis Hospital where Duaine was treated for cuts he received while trying to get his family out of the burning trailer. Dawn, Hailey and a sheriff's deputy were treated for smoke inhalation.
Since then, friends, relatives, community members, businesses and strangers have donated household goods, furniture, money, food, time and effort toward supplying the family with a home and other necessities.
"There was just a huge amount of donations," commented Melissa Kleiman of Wilson, who spearheaded the drive to provide the Williams a home. Kleiman, who has children around Nelson's age, was the child's Cub Scout leader.
Kleiman requested permission from her in-laws, Diane and Peter Kleiman Sr., to offer their vacant two-story farmhouse in Wilson to the family who had lost their son, their home and all their belongings in the fatal fire.
"A bunch of us spent four days cleaning the house," Kleiman said, amazed by the stream of donations coming into the home.
"There were people just knocking on the door and dropping things off. It was crazy," she commented.
E & E Furniture and Heynssens & Selins Furniture donated furniture. Butch's Carpet gave carpeting. People brought new and used household items including pots and pans and silverware, said Kleiman. The Bark River Fire Department donated fire detectors for the home.
Mathias Logging dropped off a load of logs, then cut and stacked the firewood. Nasar Propane donated a tank of propane and additional fill-ups at cost. D & M Subs prepared sub sandwiches at cost for those cleaning the home. Someone anonymously dropped off 10 Little Caesars pizzas while volunteers were working, she added.
"People helped from all over," Kleiman noted. "It was unreal."
Individuals from throughout the region and from downstate made various donations. When the progress of readying the house was on Facebook, there were 1,775 members at one point including someone from Scotland who praised the volunteers, she said.
Cash and checks have also been dropped off for the family at First Bank and the Delta County Credit Union. Though the family is saying they don't need any more, those who want can contribute towards a college fund for Hailey at Edward Jones in Escanaba, said Kleiman.
Immediately after the fire, the Williams received assistance from the Menominee County Victim Services Unit and the American Red Cross chapter from Iron Mountain. Within a week, the volunteers had the house ready for the family to walk in and make themselves at home.
"The house was completely set up from top to bottom," said Kleiman, recalling how volunteers worked through the night until 5 a.m. New Year's Day so the family could move in the day after Nelson's funeral.
Volunteers wanted to make the house a home as much as possible for the Williams, said Kleiman. They even found family photographs on Facebook and had them copied and framed on the walls. Any photograph of them which could be found was copied and put in an envelope for them. There were even knick knacks on the shelves and throw rugs on the floor.
Kleiman said she visited the family when they called her to come over shortly after they had arrived there.
"I see them pretty much every day. They're doing as well as can be expected. It sure helped when they had a place to go," said Kleiman. "They needed a home to live in until they get back on their feet."
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, firstname.lastname@example.org