It happened in an instant.
When local mom Kirsten Lewis briefly left the kitchen to check on her six-day-old daughter, her life dramatically changed.
“I came back, and the whole kitchen was engulfed in flames,” she said.
The grease from frying pretzels caught fire, and she couldn’t locate the fire extinguisher.
In a matter of minutes, the house was destroyed. Kirsten immediately called 9-1-1, and the fire department soon arrived to successfully put out the flames. Unfortunately, the house was deemed unlivable.
All that was left were remnants of what was once a home. The attic was completely gone. Soot covered couches and the dining room table. Her brand-new nursery equipment — a playpen and stroller — were permeated with the smell of smoke.
Kirsten was devastated.
After staying with friends overnight, Kirsten and her mom met the Red Cross, a United Way of Northeast Florida partner, at their destroyed home the next morning. The Red Cross team turned out to be her saving grace, she said.
They gave her a $750 voucher for food as well as paid for Kirsten’s family to stay in a hotel for 10 days as they made other housing arrangements. Kirsten had money saved, and within that timeframe, they were able to secure a new home.
“I don’t know what I would have done without the Red Cross,” said Kirsten. “They saved my life, my family, everything.”
Kirsten is just one example of the lives changed by the Red Cross every day. Moreover, the Red Cross Northeast Florida Chapter is just one of more than 70 partners supported each year by United Way of Northeast Florida in the areas of youth success, financial stability, health and basic needs.
Because of her experience, Kirsten now makes giving back a priority.
“I find healing in altruism,” she said. “I really wanted to give back.”
Although it’s been seven years since the house fire, Kirsten makes a commitment to volunteer whenever she can. She also helps with canned food drives with the Red Cross. And as an employee of U.S. Assure, she donates every year to the company’s United Way fundraising campaign to support organizations like the Red Cross who serve families in need.
“[Giving to United Way] makes you feel grounded and connected to your community,” Kirsten said. “You feel like you’re developing your own community.”
“Even the smallest gifts add up. It’s like a stepping stone to a better life.”
When you support United Way, local lives like Kirsten and her family are transformed, and Northeast Florida grows stronger.
How can you make a difference? Help us create a community of opportunity where everyone has hope and can reach their full potential. Donate now to United Way of Northeast Florida — because change doesn’t happen alone.