AUBURN – Fire victims Marge and Merle Chaplin consider themselves lucky.
A fire on July 1 destroyed their possessions, but the tragedy was met by an outpouring of help from patients and staff of Marge's chiropractor, Dr. Gerald Nadeau.
Almost overnight, their list of friends grew.
Retirees Marge, 66, and Merle, 69, live at the Auburn Mall Apartments. Married for 16 years, Marge has four grown children and Merle has two. Together they have several grandchildren.
The day of the fire, Marge was working in the garden and Merle was taking a shower. Suddenly, Marge overheard men warning their neighbors about a fire. When she saw smoke, she banged on the bathroom door, telling her husband to get out.
Before long, the apartment building was enveloped in black smoke, followed by flames. Except for one woman's pets, everyone got out.
Investigators determined the cause of the fire was a cigarette improperly discarded.
When the Chaplins were allowed back in their apartment, they fished for anything they could retrieve, while standing in water up to their ankles.
“Basically, we lost everything,” she said. “We had no bed, no couch, no chairs. Our kitchen set was gone. We lost the TV our children got us for Christmas.”
Marge called Dr. Nadeau's office to cancel her appointment, explaining she couldn't make it because there had been a fire. Alison Nelson, who works for Dr. Nadeau, asked if they lost everything.
“I told her yes,” Marge said. “I told her we'd be sleeping in lawn chairs. Alison got on the computer,” and through Facebook, she informed office staff, patients and associates about the couple's plight, soliciting their help.
Help arrived. Donations came pouring in in the form of furniture and cash — from staffers, associates and fellow patients. Some donors were people Marge knew; some were total strangers.
“One man we know was having a hard time financially, he donated,” Marge said. “He opened up his wallet and gave us $100. We told him no. He put it in our hand and said 'take it.'”
Donations supplied items, including a kitchen table and four chairs, a recliner, a couch and money for a bed, as well as bedding.
One man who donated a couch wanted to return with two lamps. Marge received a call from Dr. Nadeau's office, informing her that the man wanted to stop by with his little boy.
The boy, about 9 years old, gave Marge a couple of folded bills. The boy said he was giving it to them because they were in need, and his family had plenty.
“I said to him, 'Do you mind if I give you a hug and kiss?'” she recalled. She told him his gift was greatly appreciated.
“I thought it was a $10 bill. They left. I came in with the two lamps and unrolled the money. There were two $100 bills, money his grandfather had given him,” Marge said, tearing up as she talked.
“I tell you, I came through the door and lost it. Kids need to be praised for what they do. This little boy will always be right here,” she said motioning to her heart.
In addition to all the help, the Auburn Mall Apartments community has become tighter, Merle said. People still call and ask, 'How is it going?'”
Marge and Merle said they're grateful for Dr. Nadeau's office staff, patients and associates for helping them replace their possessions. Without that help, “we would never be where we are today,” Marge said.
Above all, they're grateful for friends.
“They're there in a time of need,” Marge said. “You don't think they even know who you are, but they're right there.”