This article was previously published on EloraFergusToday.
MOUNT FOREST – Several local businesses are fundraising to help support students and teachers who lost supplies and personal items during an electrical fire at St. Mary Catholic School last month.
Causing between $4 million to $5 million in extensive smoke, fire and water damages, the school board recently announced that students and staff will return to in-person learning at temporary accommodations in two Mount Forest churches later this week, where they're anticipated to remain until the end of the school year.
"I currently feel like a homeless educator with no tools," said St. Mary kindergarten educator Shelley Weber, who woke up to a text saying "the school is on fire," the morning flames came through St. Mary's roof but thought it was a nightmare until she saw firefighters battling the blaze for herself.
"It still doesn't feel real and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it," said Madelyn Costanzo, a Grade 3 teacher at St. Mary. "It's a profound loss that is coming to me in waves."
But while both teachers said they're thankful the school was empty and no one was hurt, Costanzo estimates she's out hundreds of dollars in teaching resources, not to mention personal items and her student's work.
Weber can't bring herself to add up what she lost.
"I lost all of my childhood books and classroom library that I looked forward to sharing with my students," said Costanzo. "(I also lost) several personal items such as photos and knick-knacks that made the classroom feel like a home."
These losses are the main reason Whitney Husnik, the owner of Whitney's Colourful Creations, started printing stickers with the St. Mary mascot, a Husky and its motto "we're a small town school with a great big heart" to sell online and at select businesses around town starting this month.
"(This situation has) been hard. It's been a chaotic mess," said Husnik, a mother of four. "The comment's been made that COVID took so much away from the kids so to have them return to school and then to have this happen. It's like, okay, now, the foreseeable future is uncertain again."
Estimating she's pre-sold about 100 stickers so far, Husnik plans to donate all proceeds to St. Mary teachers and students affected by the fire as she said it's been a "huge battle" for her friends with displaced children, especially for parents who rely on school for childcare.
"The environment and structure of school is so needed," said Husnik. "So for me, I want to try and help the kids get back to somewhat normal until normal can be normal again."
And she's not alone in feeling that way.
In the last week, Stumbled Upon Consignment Boutique has collected over 100 different pairs of new and used shoes for St. Mary students with their shoe drive while students at St. John Catholic School in Arthur are running a school supply drive.
Several businesses have also been donating a portion of their sales to those affected by the fire.
"The whole community has wrapped their arms around us," said Weber. "The Mount Forest community (has) taught us all what gratitude is and what it feels like."
"We as a staff appreciate it more than I can explain in words," said Costanzo. "As someone who is new to the Mount Forest community and St. Mary, I'm just so touched by how selfless everyone is being."
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program