2013-08-30 / Front Page

Variety store helps fire victims

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Alicia Hartman, owner of Village Park Variety on Westbrook Street in South Portland, knows her regular customers very well. So she found it odd one morning in early August when Kim Briere, an area resident who would stop by the store a few times a week, came in one morning for the first time since May.

Briere and her son, Joshua Stanvitch, 11, moved into an apartment on Colin Kelley Road in the Redbank neighborhood in February. About three months later, on May 14, an electrical fire that started with a power surge in Stanvitch’s room displaced them until they were allowed to return in early August.

South Portland firefighters and police officers responded to the fire just after 11:30 a.m., while Stanvitch was in class at Skillin Elementary School and Briere was working at her job in accounts payable at J.P.’s Shellfish in Eliot.

Hartman knew about the fire in May, but did not realize Briere lived in the apartment that was damaged. When Hartman heard the story from Briere, she posted on the store’s Facebook page Aug. 8, asking members of the community to help out with any donations, from cash to furniture to clothes, for “a wonderful hardworking mom.”

“She melted my heart, She’s just such a hard-working person. I would do anything for her,” Hartman said.

Fire crews were able to save the building itself, but most of the items inside were damaged beyond repair. The surge caused the fire to start in a power strip, which meant all the electronics plugged into outlets inside the apartment were ruined. Additionally, Briere said smoke and soot damage spread through the entire house, despite the fire being contained to her son’s room. Meanwhile, chemicals released through the electrical fire seeped into wood grains, couches and other parts of the apartment.

“We ended up losing almost everything,” Briere said.

After the fire, Briere said this summer has been a difficult one. Stanvitch has stayed with Briere’s parents in Sanford, while she has stayed with friends in the Portland area. The $10,000 renters’ insurance policy helped, as did the short-term stay in a hotel, but she said expenses add up quickly – from furniture, electronics to meals out to school supplies for the upcoming year.

“You don’t realize how much you actually have until you have to replace it,” Briere said.

Although Briere never asked for assistance from the community, Hartman said customers at Village Park Variety have responded quickly and impressively. She leaves a donation jar on the counter, and although she is not sure of the exact amount donated, Hartman has been impressed with the response.

“It’s amazing. The customers have been willing to do anything for her to help out. A lot of them have read about it on the Facebook page and know where (the apartment) is. It’s a small community, so people are taking it upon their own goodwill to help out,” Hartman said.

When she heard about Village Park Variety customers’ efforts to help, Briere said she was astounded by the willingness of the community to support her – despite the fact that she was a relatively new resident and did not know many of her neighbors.

“I cried. I lived in Sanford my entire life. The support I’ve gotten from the community here in South Portland in the six or seven months I’ve been here is more than I’ve ever had,” Briere said.

“It’s a nice feeling to know you’re not alone. I’m a single mom, I work hard, but things are tight.”

Stanvitch is preparing for his first year at Memorial Middle School to start in September. Briere said her son is keeping a positive attitude, but the reality of the situation sunk in for him after returning to the damaged apartment.

“He’s very strong and trying not to let it get to him. That’s him, that’s how he is,” Briere said.

For more information about the efforts to help Briere and her son recover from the fire, call Hartman at Village Park Variety at 541-9390, or stop by the store at 586 Westbrook St. in South Portland. As the fall approaches, donations of school supplies and school clothes are especially appreciated.

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