Early Christmas for family that lost home in fire

Jonathan and Chantal van der Merwe with two of their four children, Erin, 7, and Ethan, 10.

Christmas came early for a Gleemoor family when they moved back into their home that was rebuilt after a fire eight months ago.

Shortly after the fire, the family of six were overwhelmed with the community’s kindness.

They say when they moved back and unpacked the boxes of donated goods, it was “like Christmas” for them.

The Athlone News reported on the Van der Merwe family’s loss earlier this year (“Family find kindness in ashes of their home,” April 14).

Jonathan and Chantal van der Merwe and their four children lived in neighbour Elaine Rolleston’s separate entrance for seven months while their house was being rebuilt.

“It took me a long time to come to terms with it,” said Ms Van der Merwe. “I can’t believe that we actually experienced something like this. We are so blessed, however, because there are people who never recovered after such a loss. Because of this fire, we are now connected to people we didn’t know.

“We gained another family when we moved into the separate entrance. No-one will know how much that meant to us. We lost things, but we certainly are not at a loss. I cannot express my gratitude enough for the way everybody just came together to help us. We hope we can do the same for others.”

They also thanked the builders who restored their home.

One of the things that was not completely destroyed by the fire is a Bible that was given to Mr Van Merwe’s late father, Roy van der Merwe, on the day of his ordination as a reverend back in 1976. Mr and Ms Van der Merwe believe this is a sign of God protecting them.

“God is looking out for us all the time. The doors just opened for us. God’s hand was definitely in it,” Mr Van der Merwe said.

They received so many donations of toiletries and clothing that they were able to share them with others in need. Bedding, crockery, a television, and even cosmetics were among the other goods they received. A BackaBuddy fund-raising campaign was also launched, and Ms Van der Merwe said she had cried when she had gone through the list of people who donated.

“I cried tears of gratitude because many of the people who donated did not know us, and some of them live overseas,” she said.

A non-profit organisation, Reading and Writing Solutions, hosted book sales to aid the family and the organisation’s volunteers also donated goods.

“I was amazed at how everybody just came together and gave whatever they could,” said the founder, Jeff Paulse.