When the news turns personal, I'm glad folks here come help

December 23, 2007|By JOEL HUFFER

I was working a rare Saturday shift and had been in the office only a few minutes when the phone rang.

"Do you guys have any photos of the fire in Halfway?" the caller asked.

I didn't even know there was a fire in Halfway, I told him.

I hadn't heard about it yet from the reporter or photographer who were working that day, so I assumed they didn't know about it, either.

"Well, I've got some really good pictures if you think you can use them," the caller said.

The man had taken the photos with a digital camera and agreed to send them to me by e-mail. I thanked him for his efforts and told him that if we used any of the images, we would give him credit.

I went on with sorting through the assignments for the day, determing which stories were going to run where in the Sunday paper. As I was a bit unfamiliar with the routine of a Saturday shift - which I work only several times a year - the photos slipped my mind for a while.


Until I checked my e-mail.

As I sifted through the layers of offers for discount prescription medications or ways to improve my financial health, I came to the e-mail containing the photos.

I opened it, eager to see if the images would be good enough for print, and what I found was not good. In fact, what I saw was bad. Very bad.

The images showed the home of my son's Cub Scout den leader from last year. Flames were shooting from a second-story window and melted siding was falling to the ground.

Words can't describe how I felt when I saw that.

I picked up the phone and called my wife to share the terrible news. Then I called our pack's cubmaster and assistant cubmaster, but reached nobody at either number.

What would the family do? How much did they lose? What about Christmas, which was a little more than two weeks away? Were gifts lost in the fire?

A few days later, I received a call from the cubmaster, who told me that Pack 36 and Church of the Holy Trinity - our group's charter organization - were seeking donations to assist the family.

I came to work the next day and sent an e-mail to everyone here, informing them of the family's plight and the efforts of the pack and the church. Within minutes, I had the first of many cash contributions in my hand and nearly a dozen e-mail responses from around the building.

Some people wanted to know sizes for clothing. One woman asked if the family could use items from her church's food bank. Others simply asked to whom they should make out their check.

At a time of year when many people's finances are tight as a result of holiday spending, folks around here reached into their hearts and into their wallets to help a family in need.

One woman said her niece experienced a similar tragedy last year and she knew how much her family appreciated the contributions and support from total strangers.

I consider myself lucky to work with people who give freely to others, even those they don't know, in a time of need.

Christmas is commonly called the season of giving, and it's nice to know that spirit is alive and well at The Herald-Mail.

Joel Huffer is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by telephone at 301-733-5131, ext. 2327, or by e-mail at

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