2 displaced families get help after devastating fire.

Position:NEWS

Byline: Ellie Oleson

COLUMN: TELEGRAM & GAZETTE SANTA

Ten family members were left homeless and without most of their possessions after a devastating fire that severely damaged a single-family home at 48 Hartwell St. in Fitchburg on Dec. 8.

"It was a nice house. It's a shame. It's not livable now. Ten people in two families were displaced. We used salvage covers to try to save something on the first floor, but I doubt they will be able to save much. The roof is gone, and there's a lot of water damage. The house is boarded up. It's too bad this happened so close to Christmas," said Fitchburg Deputy Chief Gary Testagrossa.

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army stepped in to help at the scene and in the days since the fire.

Salvation Army Capt. Kellie Peabody said that four children lost nearly all of their toys and clothes in that fire, forcing them to unexpectedly join hundreds of other children in the area in need of a helping hand this holiday season.

While government programs and charitable organizations help with clothes, shelter and financial aid, the children often get little more than basic necessities. The Telegram & Gazette Santa partners with the Salvation Army to offer to bring some fun in time for the holidays each year.

"We have had 400 families sign up for toys from the Telegram & Gazette Santa this year. That's up from 350 families last year. There are more families in trouble this year than I've seen in my four years here," Capt. Peabody said.

She said that many who have signed up for the toys are working people, "just able to make ends meet" with ever-increasing costs of housing, fuel and food.

"Several families lost their homes when rental properties were lost to foreclosure. In some cases, they had paid their first month's rent as a deposit, which they lost. They need to come up with first and last months' rent again, and they simply can't," Capt. Peabody said. "We are helping. We found one apartment owner willing to rent to a family with no deposit."

Families will also be helped by a visit to the Salvation Army's Christmas Castle, which will be open from Wednesday through Saturday at 442 John Fitch Highway, Fitchburg, for families who have signed up for toys.

"We set it up like a toy store; parents get to pick the toys that are right for their children," Capt. Peabody said.

This year's popular toys include Barbie dolls for girls and trucks for boys, and Webkinz for both boys and girls. "They are stuffed animals that...

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