CHERRYVILLE - Kicking through the ashes of her former home, Angelica Colombon de Rodriguez stumbled upon a figurine of the Virgin Mary and a ceramic water jug. Apart from the clothes on her back, Colombon de Rodriguez lost everything else in the fire that levelled her Cherryville home Jan. 4.
Luckily the family were out of the house when the blaze erupted that morning, but the flames took everything else, including Lukas the family cat. Colombon de Rodriguez hadn't been back to the site of her old home until this morning, Jan 25.
It was an emotional visit.
"I was yelling and yelling and looking for [cat] footprints... it was really hard," she says.
Colombon de Rodriguez arrived in Canada from Mexico in 2011 with her mother, husband, two children and $100 in her pocket. In the last eight years, the family have made a life for themselves. The couple worked hard, had a daughter, now six years old, and moved from near Lethbridge to Cherryville in September last year. Then everything they had built was destroyed in a matter of hours.
"It's not the material things, it's the memories attached to them," she says. Finding the figurine and the water jug changed, in part, the way she feels about the fire.
"Like going from dark into light... all that sadness disappeared," she says.
And as news got around that a family had lost their home, the community rallied. "Even before this happened we really liked the community... we knew it was a good place to raise our kids," Colombon de Rodriguez says.
She says the support her family have been shown from the community has left her lost for words.
"I have way too much stuff right now because people have been so generous."
Both Colombon de Rodriguez and her husband work for KT Ranches and are provided accommodation with the job. When they lost their property, the owner quickly moved them into a house he was renovating for himself. Beds showed up, as did clothes for the whole family. From plates to towels Colombon de Rodriguez says everything has been replaced. Both keen archers, the family lost bows and other hunting gear. Old friends in Alberta shipped a bow out for them. Colombon de Rodriguez's husband Oscar lost hunting rifles, and through a friend of a friend, someone stepped in to help. The donor asked whether the family hunted to provide meat for the family and when they said yes, they were informed a rifle was in the post.
"The calls keep coming," says Colombon de Rodriguez adding "all these people don't know me." Her niece in the U.S. set up a fundraising campaign, which quickly raised $2,700. Colombon de Rodriguez has now instructed her to close it.
"We don't need more, we have enough."
Colombon de Rodriguez and her husband have made a list.
"We want to give the money back to all the people who gave us money."
She knows it won't be immediate and will probably take years, but it's important to her. She plans to have a garage sale with the extra goods donated to her and give the money to someone she knows in the community who is in need.
The fire also changed her perspective about the concept of community and the material things we have in our lives.
"We had a lot of stuff, but you don't need it. You have it just because you can."
Colombon de Rodriguez says the experience has brought the family closer together. She says that although the majority of her family is in Mexico, she knows she has plenty of family in Canada.
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