Mattie McCrorey celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary last month. Then she lost her wedding gown and pictures a month and a day later when her home burned.
Just before the break of dawn Saturday, her Soft Winds Village neighbors kicked off a combined yard/hot dog/bake sale for the McCroreys and two other families whose Soft Winds Village Drive homes were gutted by fire and reduced to charred shells Oct. 16.
"Watching the families watching their homes burn down weighs heavy on my spirit," said Bonita Douglas, organizer and two-year resident of the neighborhood. "I wanted the families to know that they're part of the community and we care."
The fire that also damaged two other houses, including a vacant one, started "under suspicious circumstances," according to investigators, causing $735,000 in damage. No one was hurt, but four families were displaced. The fire remains under investigation.
Saturday's eight-hour endeavor raised about $1,300 for the McCrorey, Dawson and Streater families, Douglas said.
"We're giving back to those families who lost everything," said DeQuita White, who lives across the street from McCrorey. "It won't furnish their homes, but it will be a start."
The outpouring Saturday amazed McCrorey, who also said she felt bittersweet.
"The bitter part was the fire," she said. "The yard sale is the beginning of the sweet part and the new life we're going to start."
Ten days ago, McCrorey heard an explosion around 5 a.m. When her husband, Eric, went to investigate, flames were coming from his Ford Expedition.
When the couple got their family and rounded the corner of their home, it was engulfed in flames. Meanwhile, a neighbor rang Becky Rutledge's doorbell.
"It spread from housetop to housetop," she said about the fire. "My windows were so hot that I thought they would burst."
As the fire encroached, "I was out there hosing down that wall with water," she said about a side of her house that faced a burning house. "I was trying to do everything I could to make sure it didn't go up in flames."
Rutledge's home suffered only charred plywood and melted siding, so she declined proceeds from Saturday's fundraiser.
"They lost so much more," Rutledge said of her neighbors. "Their homes were completely demolished."
Neighbor Judy Lowery baked two birthday cakes and cupcakes for the bake sale.
"We hurt for them," she said. "We're trying to do everything we can to help them."
Lowery's husband, Jim, hurt his foot Friday as he put out yard sale signs. On Saturday, he manned the grill and walked with a noticeable limp but refused to go home.
"This is more important," he said. "This neighborhood is like family. We have some family members who are in need. That's why I'm out here."
Across the way, a man delivered a bag of clothes. Others shopped and carted off their goods while some munched sweets and loaded hot-dogs. "People still care about others," Lowery said.
Steps away, a small smile touched McCrorey lips.
"Out of the kindness of their hearts, they did this for me, my family, the Streaters and Dawsons," she said. "No one had to do this. I just want to say thank you."
The neighbors refused accolades for doing what's right, Judy Lowery said.
"We're a neighborhood," she said. "Neighbors watch out for each other."
WANT TO HELP?
If you missed Saturday's fundraiser, it's not too late to help the families displaced by the Oct. 16 fire.
Checks payable to Soft Winds Fire Victims can be dropped off at Family Trust Credit Union on White Street in downtown Rock Hill.
Organizers also are seeking new and gently used furniture and other household items and clothing.
For details or information on where to drop off items, call Bonita Douglas at 817-3945.