Devastating Fire Did Not Destroy This Family's Spirit

It was the middle of the night on November 13, when Mary Cat Chaikin, who was sleeping next to her baby, woke to her sister-in-law's frantic cries alerting them to a fire. She and her family -- including two children under 3, a sister-in-law, a husband, and a dog -- managed to escape their burning apartment, but without renter's insurance and with nothing but the clothing on their backs.

This story isn't the first one like this. And a fire story about a family left in horrible shape financially is a happier story than most. The family is all alive and healthy and that is all that REALLY matters. Still, the electrical fire that destroyed their apartment dealt a devastating financial blow to the couple who was already struggling.


They are like any young family with two small children. Mary Cat runs a relatively new catering business, father Palo is a graduate student, and preschool (especially in Boston) is expensive. The fact is, any one of us could be in their shoes. Since the Chaikins are family friends, I am now seeing first-hand how stressful and scary this has been for them.

My son goes to a co-op preschool, which means that all the parents help to keep the school running. We each have co-op "jobs" and we do clean-ups and festivals, pot-lucks, and bake sales. We also "parent help" in the classroom every two weeks, which means we assist the teachers in all the day's activities. A few weeks ago, it was my day and I forgot the snack. 

It was Mary Cat who stepped up with no judgement or snide remarks. In the mommy world, most women will not let a transgression like forgetting snacks go without some kind of haughty response. But not Mary Cat. She offered to run out to the store and buy snacks for me with a smile and a "I will probably do this myself at some point." It made something awkward and uncomfortable for me feel so much better.

She took a half hour out of her time to run out to the store, buy crackers and cheese, and bring it back to me so that I wouldn't have to leave myself. Her generosity helped me fall in love with the school.

But that is just how Chaikin is. If you spend any time around her 3-year-old daughter Katie, it's easy to see what kind of parents she has. Little Katie is sweet and creative. She loves to play and laugh and is gentle and loving with all the other children. I have had the privilege of getting to know her since I work in the school and there is no doubt that she is a free-spirited little kid.

Their baby son Arlo is a bundle of baby chub and drooling smiles. He spends most of his time wrapped up in a Mei-Tei, close to his mom or nursing. Mary Cat is a community-minded person, a caterer who lost all of her equipment in the fire, but who is normally the kind of person organizing efforts to help families in need, not being on the receiving end. 

The fact is, the Chaikins could be any one of us with small children. They are so blessed and lucky in so many ways, but they also have a long road to travel before they are back on their feet. They lost everything -- laptops, furniture, catering equipment, clothing, toys, food, electronics. Rebuilding is going to be incredibly expensive.

Our school has started a fund for them and we are trying to raise money so they can get back on their feet. There is no amount of money too small. Our community is small, but we all exist in a much larger community in this world, and we can all be incredibly generous when we need to be. Please consider donating, if you can. After all, it could be any one of us who needs help next.

Have you ever known anyone who was in a fire?

Image via Chaikin Family

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