Firefighters get water on an early morning apartment fire in downtown Chilliwack Monday morning.

Firefighters get water on an early morning apartment fire in downtown Chilliwack Monday morning.

SPARKS fly to help Chilliwack fire victims

In the wake of the Mary Street apartment fire early Monday morning, a group jumped into action to help burned-out residents.

Sometimes in a crisis situation, it’s the little things that count.

Like a new toothbrush.

In the wake of the Mary Street apartment fire early Monday morning, a group of volunteers called SPARKS also stepped in, and provided some of the necessities of life to the burned out residents.

“They did a fantastic job,” said one of the fire victims, Michael Marks.

There was a feeling of “full-on” support at the scene, from the dedicated emergency responders, to the SPARKS volunteers.

“Do you know what a toothbrush means when you’re standing on the street with just the clothes on your back?

“By 10 a.m. that toothbrush meant the world to me.”

Marks lived on the third floor of the severely fire-damaged building, and does not know what, if anything, will be salvageable. Still he’s is feeling grateful and fortunate that he is one of the few, one of three, with tenants’ insurance.

“One lady lost everything, and a young couple had just moved in last month and didn’t have a chance to sign the insurance papers yet.”

Marks was out on the street, watching as firefighters battled the blaze. He’d been on his way to work in Vancouver that morning, but was able to grab his work bag and ID before escaping.

“It was pandemonium. All you do is just watch the fire. It was just an apartment but it’s your home.”

He noticed as some of the SPARKs volunteers mobilizing to help the fire victims quickly. They engaged the SPARKS network of helpers on social media, bringing down food, and other items.

Marks said he had never heard of the group of Good Samaritans, SPARKS, who have been helping those in a need for months now. They hold a weekly dinner service at Five Corners, that they call Sunday Handups.

“They were there pretty quickly.”

Some SPARKS people were on-scene, while others later followed the bus to the Comfort Inn where the victims were being housed after the fire.

“We were there at the Comfort Inn from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” said SPARKS member Linds Hlokoff, about the efforts she and girlfriend undertook.

“We were so busy we didn’t sit down, and I got heat stroke.

“But it was good to see some smiles on their faces, especially after they had just spent the morning crying.”

There was water, food, clothes, toys, pet supplies, toiletries and more on offer.

There was hot lasagna, and restaurant vouchers, as well as a movie and popcorn. There were free items at Value Village. There were emotional reunions with family members and lost pets.

“I think it gave people hope to see that there’s some good in the world,” said Hlokoff. “It turned into a pretty good day.”

The SPARKs people are now working on providing some short-term housing for fire victims in need.

Firefighters went back into the burned building and managed to retrieve a few crucial items like glasses, medications and dentures.

There were Emergency Social Services personnel helping to arrange accommodations, as well as Salvation Army volunteers helping out as well.

Local businesses stepped up too, including Value Village, Save-On Foods, Rendezvous Restaurant, Ricky’s, Cottonwood 4 Cinemas, and more.

Marks said the SPARKS people had donated items they were giving out.

“Everything was new. They said they get it all donated for free, so they give it all away for free.

“There are no politics, or religion involved. If you need it, it’s here.”

Marks said he hopes the SPARKS people “keep doing what they’re doing.”

It’s the little things that really count, like the hugs, the words of encouragement. A toothbrush.

“It just matters. They’re doing a bang-up job.”

SPARKS stands for ‘SPARKS: Special People Acts of Random Kindness Shared,’ and the group can be found on Facebook.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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