By Larissa Cahute, The Province
As Shanti Narayan stands in the rain outside her former home in Delta, its windows boarded up and the blackened roof caved in, she can’t help but relive the painful moments she spent watching fire race through the house almost two months ago.
The 66-year-old grandmother was in the kitchen on a mid-October afternoon when she heard a noise somewhere in the three-bedroom house she shared with her 18-year-old grandson on 94 Avenue at 117th Street. She went to investigate and before she knew it, her living room was blanketed in thick black smoke.
“I’ve never seen (anything) like that before,” Narayan said as she stood in front of the now-vacant home surrounded by fencing. The back deck was still covered in soot and burned furniture.
She and her grandson Darren had fled the house; there was no time to put on shoes or grab any prized possessions. She stood in her socks on 94 Avenue and watched her house burn for hours.
According to Delta Fire and Emergency Services, the investigation is ongoing, but the fire appears accidental.
Narayan couldn’t recover anything from her home — no clothing, nothing from the temple she built in the third bedroom and none of the framed photos that lined the walls, including those of her husband who died 17 years ago.
“My temple, my pictures — my memories … everything is gone,” Narayan said as she removed her glasses to wipe tears from her eyes. “I have nothing.”
Narayan lost all of her belongings in the fire, but she will at least be able to celebrate the holidays with a Christmas food hamper from Deltassist Family and Community Services, one of 27 community organizations that receives funds from The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund.
Ashley Raj, Narayan’s 27-year-old granddaughter, said that as far back as she can remember, Christmas and New Year’s Eve has been spent at her grandmother’s home, where the family cooks, eats, drinks and celebrates together. Her grandmother has six children, 16 grandchildren and four great-grandkids and they are still unsure how the holidays will pan out.
“We always go to her house, every year, and this year we don’t have a place to go, to call home,” Raj said through tears.
They may go to Narayan’s son’s home in Surrey, where she’s currently staying, but nobody wants to bring up Christmas this year.
“We haven’t been talking about it,” said Raj. “I don’t know if we’re going to be celebrating — it won’t be the same as all the other years.”
Lorraine Yates, who works with Deltassist, said the organization often helps people like Narayan who are coping with a sudden change in circumstances, such as the loss of a home or job, that impacts a family’s finances.
While the Christmas program primarily helps families with low incomes, “we deal with things on an individual basis,” Yates said. “If someone gets a special case, we work with them. We always err on the side of kindness.
“It takes a lot to come in and ask for help.”
Last year The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund raised more than $347,000 thanks to the fundraising efforts of corporate sponsors, local supporters and, of course, Province readers. The Province covers all administrative costs, so every dollar donated goes to the fund’s beneficiaries, including Deltassist, which then buy gifts and food hampers for families and singles in need across B.C.