Friends rally to help single mom, seven children

Support is pouring in for a single mother and her seven children left homeless after a fire destroyed their house near Rocky Mountain House.

Support is pouring in for a single mother and her seven children left homeless after a fire destroyed their house near Rocky Mountain House.

Within hours of the Nov. 23 blaze, friends rallied to help Connie VanderBaaren and her three sons and four daughters, who lost almost everything. It’s believed the family cats may have knocked over a candle or bumped something that fell onto the flame.

Family friend and house builder Scott Collinson said he got on the phone right after the fire and called his building contacts, who didn’t hesitate to help. Already, $115,000 worth of in-kind donations have been pledged.

Designs for a new house are being pulled together and Collinson hopes work starts in January so the family is in a new 1,500-square-foot home by early spring, at no cost to the family.

“The house is coming together nicely,” he said on Thursday. “We’ve got committees formed. We’ve got accounts formed to do with the housing project and for immediate needs.”

Collinson said a neighbour, Jimmy Clark, also jumped right in to organize help for the family.

“I can’t stress enough how much time and effort he’s put into this as well,” he said.

Collinson said VanderBaaren has nine children, including seven ranging in age from nine to 20 who were still living with her in the home about five km southeast of Rocky. All have been taken in by friends and family.

Daughter Melissa, 23, was caring for her two youngest siblings, sisters aged nine and 10, for the past week in Sangudo. She was in Rocky on Thursday helping her mother move into a vacant trailer on Collinson’s quarter section.

“The community has been awesome. They’ve been a great help,” said Melissa, who has a 19-year-old sister who also lived outside the home.

The family is coping despite the ordeal. “It’s been tough but everyone is dealing with it all right.”

Collinson said the family can stay in the trailer as long as they need. “I’m hoping to have them all back under the same roof so they can be together as a family.”

VanderBaaren is well respected in the community and her children have contributed a lot to the family, he said.

“It’s absolutely amazing how many people are on board with this thing right now, and it’s growing exponentially as the days go on.”

A number of fundraising efforts have already been arranged for the family. On Saturday, three local businesses are running a snack booth on Main Street during the town’s Parade of Lights with the proceeds going to the family.

Rocky Mountain Dodge will be hosting a fundraiser and silent auction on Dec. 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A community party has also been arranged for Dec. 17 with performances from choirs and other musical acts at First Christian Reformed Church.

A pair of trust accounts, one for the house and one for expenses, have been set up at Rocky Credit Union. To make donations, call Clark at 403-845-8864 or for construction donations call Collinson at 403-844-0653.

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