BANGOR, Maine — Preston Smith’s first birthday didn’t go as planned. The child turned 1 on Dec. 28 and was supposed to celebrate his milestone birthday a week later at a party planned by his parents. Instead, he and his family found themselves with no home and no belongings. A furnace malfunction caused their mobile home to burn to the ground on Jan. 2, and everything was lost.
“We’ll have [a birthday party],” said his father, Roger Smith Jr. of Bangor. “We just don’t know when we can.”
Since the fire at Pray’s Mobile Home Park Lot 13, the family has been caught up in a whirlwind of generosity. Gift cards, free services, deferred payments on owed bills, outright donations of items and money have been pouring in from the community. And family friend Tammy Harlow has been coordinating donations for the family, including a fundraising event at the end of the month.
For now, Roger and his wife Annastasia, both 29, and their sons, Roger III, 4, and Preston, are staying with family in Carmel. Their hope is to find a small piece of land with a garage and house or mobile home they can afford, perhaps a rent-to-own property.
Roger is a deputy with Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and a part-time officer serving Indian Island, but he once was a volunteer firefighter. He joined Eddington Fire Department at age 15 and left the department as a lieutenant at age 24. He said he has always tried to help victims and their families.
“To be on the other end is scary. Just not having a home is scary,” he said.
One person offered to donate a used mobile home, but Roger said it did not fit his family’s needs, and he could not afford to make necessary repairs. He nonetheless expressed deep appreciation for the generous offer.
In the days before the fire, Roger had been installing a metal roof on his former mobile home. The project was almost complete, but it had left little money in reserve for an emergency.
Roger’s co-workers through the sheriff’s department and Indian Island have been collecting donations and delivering them to the family. Danny Grover, owner of D&H Construction in Orrington, has volunteered an excavator, dumpster and labor to remove the remnants of the burned structure.
Roger and some friends were at the site Thursday, digging through the debris and ashes in the charred remains to see if they could find anything worth salvaging. Melted pieces of toys and other items were frozen into surrounding snowbanks. Pray’s Mobile Home Park owner Keystone Management Co. in Bangor is allowing the family to leave the rest of their possessions on the lot until spring rent-free.
Pinecone Furniture in Waterville has offered to help the family, as have Del Merritt, owner of Cap’s Tavern; Outback Towing in Orland set up a drop-off box; Rent-A-Center suspended payments on rental items; employees at Down East Federal Credit Union, where the couple bank, have collected donations; S&S Auto in Eddington loaned the Smiths a vehicle while one of theirs is being repaired; and Brewer Children’s Learning Center day care has collected items for the family.
The list of individuals helping is seemingly endless — Annastasia’s family, Jeff and Melissa Overlock and Donnie Blanchard — and Roger admitted he doesn’t even know the last names of some of the people. A man known only as Donnie, who works for Fed-Ex, and Hooch from Unity Raceway set up a box in Burnham and have been making regular trips to bring the resulting donations to the family.
“There are so many people and businesses helping that you couldn’t fit them all on an 8 1/2 by 11 [inch] piece of paper,” Roger remarked. He lamented he could not mention more of them.
One of the most difficult things for the young couple has been keeping their children’s lives as normal as possible. The boys are accustomed to spending some time at their grandparents’, but their favorite toys are gone. The family has been using some of the gift cards to slowly replace lost toys and clothes with new but familiar items. Some of those were Christmas presents received just days before the fire, others were gifts from their oldest son’s birthday on Dec. 12.
Roger, who described himself as proud and independent, is working hard to put a roof back over his family’s head. He is suspending a beloved sport he has been participating in for about nine years: racing. Smith has won the track championship at Unity Raceway and won the Big Enduro Class in 2013 at Speedway 95 in Hermon, but he is selling whatever he can to scrape up enough money to get back on his feet, including beloved racing items.
“It was a house fire. Sad for me and my family, but no one got hurt, and all of these people are willing to help,” he said in amazement.
The fundraiser Harlow is organizing begins 1 p.m. Jan. 26, at Cap’s Tavern in Brewer. $5 at the door; extra $3 for meal. It will include a spaghetti dinner, silent auction, 50/50 raffle, bake sale and bands playing music. Bands include Rick Carter Band, which also is loaning equipment, Daddy Del Droolers, 5 Wheel Drive Band, Second Chance Band, and more. Harlow also needs donations for silent auction and food for the bake sale and dinner but already has heard from several people who plan to contribute.
To donate an item for the benefit, call Harlow at 825-3560 or Pollyanna Smith at 570-4481. A facebook page has been set up for the dinner-auction at facebook.com/events/1438974309652457/. Harlow can be reached at 659-8903 for other donations. Donation jars are at Eddington Store, Ye Old General in Carmel and Clifton Country store.
An account also has been set up for the Smiths at Peoples United Bank, Attention Jeni King, 191 River Road, Orrington 04474. For information, call the bank at 991-9564.