When Renee Matlock's rented north Modesto home burned early Monday, she escaped with her four small children, a basket of laundry and little else.
When Katherine McIntosh's home on Carver Road burned last Friday, she lost everything -- including her copy of the famous 1936 Dorothea Lange photo titled "Migrant Mother." The mother was McIntosh's and McIntosh was one of the three children in the photo.
The fire left her with little more than the $4 she had in the bank.
In each case, virtually all that they owned was destroyed. The buildings were insured. The contents weren't.
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These are people who work to scratch out their existence. Matlock delivers pizzas for Round Table. McIntosh, at 75, still cleans houses to augment her monthly Social Security checks.
So you hope that when someone is in need, the community steps up to help. People here are generally very good about that.
This is a time of year when folks begin reaching out anyway, through United Way fund raising or giving to the homeless shelters. They donate blankets, coats and food. They give to Christmas toy drives. They give to food banks. They give money. They give their time by serving at the various holiday dinners. They give labor and materials. Sometimes, they offer moral support, which can mean just as much.
"I'm shocked," Matlock said. "All of our kids play together, and I say, 'Hi,' but I really don't know them. I'm probably the newest one on our street. So for all of them to come and give me hugs of support, it really means a lot."
Whether compelled by the house fires here or the wildfires that drove thousands from their homes in Southern California, there are plenty of examples of people from ages
8 to 88 offering to help.
An 8-year-old girl from San Diego County, Isabelle Feller, set up a lemonade stand in front of her grandmother's north Modesto home last Saturday. She raised $100 that she donated to the Red Cross for fire victims down south.
In Modesto, Central Catholic High School football coach Mike Glines read about Matlock's situation. Awed that she had gone back into the burning, smoke-filled home to rescue 3-year-old son Alexander, Glines wants his players to help in some way. It might be through raising money, or by helping to clean up whatever can be salvaged from the Matlock home.
"It's not about football," Glines said. "It's about helping a family and helping people. I'm going to meet with my (players), and (Thursday) night with about 100 parents. It's something we're taking on. What do you want to do?"
Emilie McKnight, an 88-year-old from Modesto, is collecting towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items to give to Matlock and her children.
"I even threw in a deck of cards," McKnight said. "They might as well have some fun while they're there (at a local hotel). I thought, 'Gee, maybe I could help this lady if I can.' That's what we're here for, is to help each other. What other purpose is there for us?"
Mary McNicholas of Modesto offered a trundle bed, and several others offered help as well.
Some will donate to McIntosh through an account established in her name (Katherine McIntosh) at Valley First Credit Union.
Yet others will donate directly to the Stanislaus Chapter of the American Red Cross, which has helped an unprecedented number of fire victims alone over the past few months. Since July 1, the Red Cross has spent more than $44,000 providing money for temporary food, shelter and replacement clothing.
"And we haven't even hit the winter months, when we have lots of chimney fires," Red Cross Executive Director Rebecca Ciszek said.
They'll need to replenish the coffers as they plan for the next fire, flood or whatever.
There will be more like the Matlocks and McIntosh, stripped of even the barest of essentials and left to start all over.
The community's heart and soul will be tested again and again.