GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- When a fire destroyed Steve Helewa's home days after Christmas, the newly hired Galloway Township emergency medical technician never expected to see the steady outpouring of support from the local community.
Helewa was hired as a full-time EMT in Galloway about three months ago and was commuting to the job from his home in Surf City, Ocean County. But on Dec. 29, just before midnight, the 22-year-old awoke to the smell of smoke at his North Third Street home and discovered a couch was on fire.
After helping his fiancee, Lisa Maiorano, and their 18-month old daughter, Isabella, to safety, Helewa re-entered the house to try to extinguish the fire but was unsuccessful; the home was destroyed along with nearly every item inside.
Immediately, Galloway Township Ambulance Squad Chief Ray Adams organized an effort to collect items the family might need. Within hours of putting the effort together, donations flooded in -- some from as far away as the Cherry Hill Fire Department. Emergency departments have donated clothes, toys, gift cards, televisions and kitchen items.
The efforts were magnified when Cooper University Hospital in Camden was informed of the campaign and forwarded an email on behalf of the Galloway Township Ambulance Squad to other affiliated emergency services groups working with the hospital.
"It's just a huge outpouring of support from the EMS community as far as clothes and items for the baby. I can't say enough about it," Helewa said. "My coworkers in Galloway have been phenomenal. They really rallied behind me."
Rooms full of items have been delivered to the family, which is now staying with relatives in Barnegat Township, Ocean County. In fact, so many items have been received that organizers have asked that only monetary donations be made at this point.
Last Friday, organizers held a benefit for the family at LA's Bar and Family Restaurant in Manahawkin for $25 per ticket. It's not yet known how much money the event raised for the family.
"It really spiraled from a very small thing into a very big thing," said Lt. James Jones, of the Galloway Township Ambulance Squad. "I've never seen anything like it. It's really been incredible just to watch the donations come in."
Although nearly every item in the home was destroyed in the fire, Helewa was able to locate one item among the debris that could not be replaced by donations: an ultrasound photo of his daughter. "It's pretty wild. It's not something you'd ever expect to have happen to you. We've been lucky," Helewa said.