Paula and Michael Stewart want to turn the misfortune of losing their home and their two beloved dogs in a fire into a mission of giving back.
Overwhelmed by a generous outpouring of support and donations of food, clothing, cash and supplies, the Stewarts vow to help others dealing with hard times.
They knew how close-knit Hurst is, having spent much of their lives there, and they experienced that firsthand after their home burned to the ground Oct. 9.
The donations have far exceeded the $5,000 goal on a GoFundMe page established by their adult son — over $12,500 has been raised.
“We were surprised by the generosity. You always hear in today’s world that people are only interested in their self gain. We saw just the opposite,” Mike Stewart said as he held back tears.
“We saw people come together who didn’t know us and who didn’t know each other.”
Susanna Khavul, an associate professor of management at the University of Texas at Arlington, said social media sites such as GoFundMe have created an environment where it is easy to provide information without going to a great deal of expense.
$12,570 Amount raised so far
In the past, there was a cost of printing fliers and doing things such as organizing phone trees to contact friends and neighbors, she said.
“It is much, much easier to communicate your need to a much larger audience,” she said. “It has allowed donating to be more easily done.
“It is very easy to exceed fundraising goals once there is a momentum. There is a validation process; people see many have joined and that it is a good cause.”
The Stewarts are staying at a Bedford hotel while they decide on the best course for rebuilding their lives.
They had lived on busy Hurstview Drive since 1989 and, having paid off their mortgage in December, were starting to remodel their home.
We were surprised by the generosity. You always hear in today’s world that people are only interested in their self gain. We saw just the opposite.
They went to bed as usual the night of Oct. 9 when Michael Stewart awoke to loud crackling sounds, the shrill beeping of smoke alarms and the strong smell of smoke.
He yelled to his wife to wake up and come outside as a neighbor banged on the front door.
They had time to put on their bathrobes and look for their dogs, Puddin, who survived, along with Brandi and Isaac, who did not. Frightened by the noise and smoke, Puddin ran away and was found the next day.
The Stewarts said they don’t know what caused the fire, which started in a garage in a wall that did not have an electrical outlet.
As their house burned, neighbors and strangers alike came by to donate money, clothing, gift cards and food, and the outpouring of support still continues.
“People have come by to cry and weep with us,” Paula Stewart said.
Mike Stewart described how one of his granddaughters gave $2.16 — all she had.
Since their home was destroyed, the Stewarts have helped others such as a family whose home burned down several days before theirs.
Another person staying in the same hotel needed a bus ticket to Abilene, and Mike Stewart purchased it.
Paula Stewart, 56, is a retired hairstylist, but she still cuts hair for those who can’t afford to visit a salon. Her husband, 61, owns a roofing company and performed with Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue.
The Stewarts plan to move into a rental house soon and haven’t decided what to do about their Hurstview Drive home. Mike Stewart said he will work on cleaning up the property.
Paula Stewart said that she and her husband had some arguments before the house fire but have patched up their differences.
“The bottom line is that I have my husband and he still has me,” she said.
The Go Fund Me page is at www.gofundme.com/ws63c6dc.