Students at St. Dominic Catholic Secondary School came together to collect money and household items for a family that lost their rental home to a fire less than a year after losing two family members in a snowmobiling accident.
A fire on Sept. 28 claimed most of the belongings and the rental home of Amanda Fitchett and Devin Paris as well as their six kids, only about seven months after they lost their son Mitchell and nephew Alex in a snowmobiling accident. The family is living in emergency temporary housing in Gravenhurst until they can secure a new rental home. Grade 9 religion teacher Lisa Theriault noticed that a few of her students were consistently praying for the family, so she connected with teacher and chaplain Paige Forsyth and the school principal to see if there was anything they could do for them. They came up with a plan for the religion class to collect clothing, bedding and other household items for the family.
“A couple of the students over a couple of days were praying for this family, so that really sparked the whole initiative,” Forsyth said. “It was student led and student driven, so that just made it more beautiful.”
The plan for one class to collect the goods turned into a school-wide challenge, where classes competed to bring in the most items. Over the course of three weeks, the school was able to collect about 1,070 items for the family, including winter clothing, small appliances, bedding, toys and more. Students and staff at the school did some laundry and organized the items into moving boxes that were donated by the Bracebridge Home Depot.
“Rather than just give them garbage bags full of stuff that they had to sort through, we wanted to actually go through and fold everything and divide it up for each of the family members,” Forsyth said. “The family was super moved by everything. They had to go and get another vehicle because there was so much stuff and they weren’t anticipating so many boxes.”
The school also decided to raise money for the family through a bake sale run by the religion class and by giving students the option to pay $2 to wear their own clothes rather than the school uniform. They raised about $500 and a family at the school donated a $200 Walmart card to give them as well.
Forsyth said she never expected to have so much success in gathering items and raising money. From the students that inspired their efforts to the ones that gave up lunches to fold and organize clothing, the young people at St. Dominic have made her proud.
“It reaffirms for me that sometimes the youth don’t get the credit that they deserve,” she said. “I think the future is in good hands with our young leaders, especially our young leaders in Muskoka. As a mom, it makes me proud that my daughter is going to grow up with a peer group and these leadership opportunities where they’re just going to see a need and take things on and help people out.”
Amanda Fitchett said it meant a lot to her that the students were the ones behind the initiative.
“It was almost overwhelming,” Fitchett said. “It had already been a month and I thought, ‘Okay, everything’s done now with fundraising.’ To hear that some students were the ones that really wanted to do it made me really happy.”
When the time came to pick up the boxes, Forsyth sent a message to Fitchett that everything was ready for the family.
“She said there was a few boxes, and I said, ‘Okay, then I should be able to fit them in a truck,’” Fitchett said. “When I got there and saw how much they had actually gathered up, I was in shock. I really didn’t expect that much.”
Her kids were blown away by the donations as well, jumping up and down in excitement, she said. They wanted to thank the students, so her daughter tagged along to pick up the boxes. They were greeted by students at St. Dominic, who were there to meet them and help load up the truck.
“All of the kids that wanted to meet us couldn’t stop smiling,” she said. “They were so happy to be the ones helping us.”
Fitchett said her entire family wants to thank everyone at St. Dominic for their efforts with a special thanks to the family that donated the Walmart gift card. The money will help them celebrate Christmas, she said, and the family loves all the toys and clothing they received.
“All the students should know they did something amazing by helping our family,” she said. “We are extremely grateful.”
If you want to help contribute to the family, visit their GoFundMe page. You can also contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact GoFundMe organizer Katelyn Marie Good through the fundraising page.