Toms River Mayor Asks Community to Support Family Displaced by House Fire
Mayor Thomas Kelaher has always said that one of the best things about Toms River is the spirit of volunteerism, and now he is actively reaching out to the community to help assist a local family who is homeless due to a structural fire at their single-story ranch home.
Deemed uninhabitable, the house at 201 Cedar Grove Avenue can be restored, with a little help from the public, and a good contractor with time to donate.
Maria Bertolini, 58, says that around midnight on Monday, May 7th, she was awakened by a pounding at her door. A passerby noticed that her roof was on fire and the stranger shouted at everyone to get out of the house. Bertolini was able to get her two sons, ages 26 & 28, out of the house, along with the family pets, two dogs and two cats.
A teary-eyed Bertolini says, “I don’t know who that woman was, but she saved our lives. I never got to properly thank her for what she did.”
The home has lots of smoke and water damage. The couches and beds are all water damaged and all of the flooring will have to be replaced. Their bedrooms and clothing are salvageable.
The Northern Ocean County Habitat for Humanity is stepping in to help rebuild the family home. Suzan Fichtner, their Executive Director stated, “We had a fire expert come and we know what this project will require. Most of the house can be salvaged, but the requirements needed to begin the project are beyond our immediate capabilities. We can build and rehab houses, but right now, we need a contractor to step up and take charge of the project. We’ll supply the materials, but we need someone with expertise to help us start clearing out the debris and rebuild the house.”
Fichtner adds, “Two engineers have seen the house and say that the garage, family room, and portions of both the living room and kitchen will need to be rebuilt. The bedrooms are fine, so there’s no question that we can save this house. Our goal is to have the family back in their home within six months, hopefully sooner.” Bertolini and her sister Kathy More are thankful that people have already donated items to the family such as gift cards and food. Bertolini went on disability in November due to Diabetic retinopathy, which is a condition caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina. She is currently getting laser therapy to preserve the vision that she has left. With no means of viable income, the Bertolini’s are desperately relying on the kindness of strangers to help out during this time of need.
Kathy More says of her sister, “She just can’t seem to catch a break. She lost her husband when the kids were 3 and 5 years old. She used his life insurance money to purchase this home so that the kids could walk to Cedar Grove Elementary School. Maria spent six years getting through college, working two jobs, while taking care of her two sons, one of whom is mentally disabled. She still has $30,000 in student loans to pay back, she doesn’t have homeowners’ insurance, she is losing her vision, and now this house fire. The bad news doesn’t seem to end for her.” For now, Maria and her adult children will be living with Maria’s sister and her family, sharing a bedroom until housing is found for them.
Mayor Kelaher hopes that the residents of Toms River and surrounding areas will pitch in to help this struggling family. He says, “This family is very appreciative for the donations they have received thus far, especially the Georgian Court University Campus Ministry, where Maria worked. They were able to coordinate an effort to collect donations.”
Kelaher says, “We are looking for monetary donations, non-perishable food, toiletries and paper products, gift cards, and even a storage POD donation. The family wants to be able to salvage what furniture they can.”
Anyone interested in helping Bertolini’s family through donations of time, supplies or even volunteer labor once the rebuild begins can do so via the Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity, located at 1201 Lakewood Road. For more information, visit www.northernoceanhabitat.com or call 732-818-9500.