Couple aids family of 11 left homeless by fire

A Winnipeg man and his 10 children, who were forced out of their home by a fire on Saturday, are learning about the kindness of strangers.
Jonathan Williams said he has been touched by the help offered by strangers. ((CBC))
A Winnipeg man and his 10 children, who were forced out of their home by a fire on Saturday, are learning about the kindness of strangers.

Jonathan Williams, 39, and his children lost nearly everything when flames chased them from their house on Flora Avenue on Saturday.

Everyone in the home was able to get out safely, but the building suffered extensive damage.

The cause of the fire has been determined to be faulty electrical wiring.

Williams has been struggling to raise his family as a single father since his wife died in 2008.

Ted Marcelino and his wife, Cori, saw news reports about the fire and felt compelled to help, particularly since the weekend marked the anniversary of the couple's arrival in Canada from the Philippines.

Jonathan Williams hugs Ted Marcelino after the latter brought blankets and other items to the family. ((CBC))

The Marcelinos remember what it was like to have nearly nothing, trying to start over.

"We've been here 31 years [on Saturday], 31 years. Anything we could grab we'll give," Ted Marcelino said. "We have more than enough — Canada has been good to us, very, very good to us — and it's hard to be in their shoes, so it's to share something."

The couple called Flora House, a drop-in centre operated by the Winnipeg Inner City Missions, which has been helping Williams and his children, aged four to 20.

The Marcelinos then met with Williams on Sunday and provided him with blankets and other household essentials.

"God bless them. It's from the bottom of my heart and it's from the bottom of all my kids' hearts," Williams said.

Donations accepted at mission

Donations for the family are also being accepted by the Winnipeg Inner City Mission, at 415 Logan Ave. They have plenty of clothing items but need food, personal hygiene items, towels and blankets.

Mission spokespeople say more than 100 donors have dropped off items so far and donations will be accepted through Thursday.

Larger items like furniture can be given to Hands of Hope. Information on how to donate is available on the website.

More help is coming from the Firefighters Burn Fund, which has provided a temporary place for the family to stay — a three-bedroom suite in a complex on Selkirk Avenue.

Martin Johnson, chair of the fund, said the fully furnished suite is specifically for situations like this. The cost of rent will have to be worked out with North End Housing, which owns the block.

Smoke billows on Saturday from the roof of the Flora Avenue home where Jonathan Williams and his 10 children lived. ((CBC))

The living quarters will be cramped, but it will bring the family members back under a single roof. Several of them were in one short-term shelter on the weekend, while the others were in a different residence.

The family can stay in the Selkirk Avenue suite for the next month, or longer, while they try to find more permanent living arrangements, Johnson said, noting it is a challenge to find rental properties in Winnipeg, especially for such a large family.

"When you get a family of this size, it can be challenging because you need a place large enough with rooms, a place for beds and the like. I come from a family of eight, so I can relate to this group," Johnson said.

"[Williams] was taken to the house to see if he felt it was adequate for the family and he was given a key [Sunday] afternoon. They could have moved in last night or this morning."