Fire in a Church

I found myself alone in a church with an arsonist last month.

The stress of the day sits heavily in my chest, disturbing my sleep and leaving me exhausted and, at times, weepy.

I lead a team of volunteers serving unhoused and vulnerable women in downtown San Jose. We rent space at the back of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. Our Lifted Spirits program offers clothing and hygiene, a hot lunch, and, most of all, support to women in a non-judgemental environment.

Lifted Spirits Mannequins dressed in donated clothes

As I prepared to leave for the day, just half an hour behind our last volunteer, I heard what turned out to be a distant smoke alarm. I dismissed it at first as it seemed far away, but then I smelled smoke.

Entering the main corridor just a short distance away, I encountered a man I had never seen before. He stood in the hallway enveloped in white smoke, holding something in both hands. He turned to me and said something incoherent. I fled.

The corridor where I encountered the suspect showing smoke and water damage

I returned to our serving area, locked the door, then fumbled to call 911. Unfortunately, my phone wouldn’t work, or more accurately, my fingers couldn’t seem to work the phone. I tried clearing the screen, searched for the 911 number that I knew had to be there, and finally managed to call for help.

As the dispatcher picked up, I saw the man from the hallway exit our building, then walk along the enclosed patio area where we serve our clients.

I blurted out on the phone with the dispatcher: “I’m alone in a church with the man I think set the fire, and I’m scared.”

Knowing he was outside and fearing his return, I fled through the smoky corridor to the front of the church. Small puffs of white smoke emanated from the sanctuary’s roof.

A couple of passersby had stopped and also called 911. As the engines arrived at the scene, I remained on the phone. Then I ran to the street to tell one of the firefighters that I didn’t want the suspected arsonist to get away.

St. Paul’s UMC fire, June 8, 2022

To be continued…

SummerWinds Nursery Fire Sale Raises Donations for SJFBF

SummerWinds Employees

A Happy and Helpful Crew

Summer Winds, a local nursery in the Almaden area of San Jose, burned to the ground a few weeks ago. Formerly the Woolworth Garden Center, the nursery has been in the same spot for 40 years. Since the fire, there has been such an outpouring of support from the community. We’re all very sad at the loss of this nursery, and look forward to its rebirth.

Last Friday they set up shop in front of the former store, a fire sale lasting through the weekend. Large pottery, trees and annuals located outside the garden center survived the flames and were on sale. In addition to selling what remained at a huge discount, 10% of the proceeds went to the San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation. What an amazing community we have. From there press release:

SummerWinds hosted at our San Jose location a 3 day “Fire Sale” and donation drive for the San Jose Fire Department, Friday through Sunday, September 14 – 16, 2012. Ten percent of the net proceeds from the sale will be donated to the San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation and the Los Bombers of Northern California Toy Program—resulting in more than $14,000 in donations.

“We truly have the best customers! Their loyalty to SummerWinds and our associates,
combined with their compassion to support the San Jose Fire Department was overwhelming during our Fire Sale,” stated Leo Goria, SummerWinds’ Vice President of Operations. San Jose’s Fire Department had a fire truck on site and fire fighters handed out fire hats to all the children. Customers were helping one another with their carts and purchases, and what could have been grid lock in the parking lot was handled with finesse by SummerWinds’ customers.

Captain Mary Gutierrez of San Jose’s Fire Department expressed her appreciation in
saying, “In a world where so many are struggling, the community of San Jose can feel joy
in that children at the burn center will have some things they need to survive life-changing
injuries. The community can feel pride in that hundreds of families will benefit by receiving toys and food this coming Christmas. San Jose Fire Department can not express the gratitude felt towards the SummerWinds Nursery management and staff that supported two very important fire department community programs that benefit so many children and families in San Jose”.

SummerWinds Nursery Fire Sale

SummerWinds Nursery Fire Sale

I wasn’t able to shop till late Saturday afternoon, so most of the plants were gone. I did, however, buy a charming garden bench, which will make its debut shortly in a future post.

Additional Resources:

SummerWinds San Jose Facebook Page

San Jose Firefighters Foundation