By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — AuSABLE FORKS — Cars filled the parking lot and the streets surrounding American Legion Post 504 here.
Inside, scores of people passed through the buffet line, with volunteers serving up salad, spaghetti, rolls and baked goods.
They were there to help the Kelley family, who lost their 1647 Route 9N home in Clintonville and all their belongings in an Oct. 15 fire.
In the wake of the disaster, it has been rough for Patty Kelley and the three grandchildren she began raising on her own after her husband, Russell, died in February 2011.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I was on my own,” she said.
She received just enough money from her insurance company to pay off the mortgage of the home she had lived in for 38 years. Everything else, save a few family photos, was gone.
But even on the day of the fire, help was on the way.
Friend Linda McKiernan of AuSable Forks put up a post on her Facebook page asking for clothing, shoes and other essentials that the family would need right away.
“Within five minutes, my Facebook page was blowing up,” McKiernan said of the overwhelming response from those who know the family and others who didn’t.
People began dropping items off for the Kelleys at McKiernan’s home, and checks arrived in the mail from as far away as Watertown, Albany and Pennsylvania, she said.
Within a short time, collected $2,000 for the Kelleys.
TEACHER JOINS EFFORT
About a month ago, Donna Ruggeri, a seventh-grade English teacher at AuSable Valley Middle School, decided she wanted to do something to help, too.
She had previously had one of the fire victims, Zachary, 16, as a student, and she is currently teaching his younger brother Jimmy, 15. In a couple of years, she will likely have 13-year-old Carl, the youngest, too.
“These kids are just the sweetest kids,” Ruggeri said. “She (Patty) has some of the best boys in the school.”
Ruggeri’s first-ever time as event coordinator became easy when people began texting, calling and approaching her, wanting to help.
About 10 faculty members and 13 students from the school volunteered at the dinner, collecting money at the door and serving guests.
“People just opened up their arms,” Ruggeri said. “It’s so heartening. It’s wonderful.”
Many businesses, including Sam’s Club, Stewart’s Shop, Hometown Deli & Bakery in AuSable Forks, pitched in to provide food for the dinner. Others donated items for the silent auction, and Ray and Jackie Clukey of Simply Music provided entertainment free of charge.
The benefit proved a good opportunity for students to learn the value of serving their community, Ruggeri said.
“They know it’s the right thing to do.”
Zachary, Jimmy and Carl are all thankful for the support from their community.
“It makes me happy. Pretty much everyone’s here,” Jimmy said, looking around the room.
Diners were still coming in to eat when Ruggeri said they had reached the $1,000 mark.
“People are slapping down twenties” for two people for dinner, she said. The meal was $7 for adults and $5 for children younger than 12. Two people each contributed $100 bills for their meals, she said.
Proceeds from the event will go directly to the Kelleys so they can begin to rebuild after all they have lost.
“We’ve pulled through a lot of tragedies together,” Ruggeri said of the AuSable Forks area, referencing the Ice Storm of 1998 and Tropical Storm Irene.
She gestured to the room, filled to the brim with people eating, laughing and talking to friends.
“Look at these people. They’re taking care of each othe.”
Patty had said she hadn’t seen her grandsons smiling as much since before the fire.
But surrounded by friends and family, Zachary, Jimmy and Carl were happy again.
HOW TO HELP
Donations for the Kelley family can be sent to their new home at 1826 North AuSable Street, Keeseville, NY 12944.