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Community steps up to support Caravan Court fire victims

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/16/18

It had just stopped snowing when Christine Varner-Dunn and her son Brayden Dunn walked down Caravan Court on a late April day. The pair wove their way through the puddles in the potholes on the …

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Community steps up to support Caravan Court fire victims

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It had just stopped snowing when Christine Varner-Dunn and her son Brayden Dunn walked down Caravan Court on a late April day. The pair wove their way through the puddles in the potholes on the street to their home.

Brayden wandered around the back of the trailer while his mother stood in the street staring at her home heavily damaged by a fire March 27.

Although the flames are gone, it’s easy to see their shadow on the house — all of the windows are covered with wooden boards, black ash trailed from the top of the door and the outside light clung to the wall by thin wires. At the base of the stairs was a shattered turquoise laundry basket with a pile of wet clothes and towels a stone’s throw away.

Varner-Dunn has only been inside 208 Caravan Court once since the fire displaced her and her family. Most of the inside was heavily damaged.

It was very hard to see everything you work for gone, she said standing outside her home.

“One day at a time,” she repeated over and over as she and Brayden walked towards their relative’s home down the street.

What happened?

“I don’t know, and we still don’t know. It’s still under investigation,” Varner-Dunn said.

No one was in the house that Tuesday afternoon. Varner-Dunn, her husband and her son were at lunch when one of the neighbors called and said their home was on fire.

The other six kids were at school.

“I’m very grateful that no one was injured or hurt,” Varner-Dunn said.

Varner-Dunn grew up near Pittsburgh, but the family has lived in Middletown and in their Caravan Court home for nine years. They were looking for a school district that could cater to both kids in advanced and special education classes.

Middletown Area School District, Varner-Dunn said, had what they were looking for and is why they stayed in the area.

Within hours of news of the fire, the school district sprung into action. High school teacher Caitlin Hunt said club advisers received emails, asking if the clubs wanted to do something.

One of her students was friends with one of the Dunn children, who told Hunt that the Dunns would do something if this happened to someone else.

Within a couple of days, high school and Kunkel elementary staff, students and parents filled a room with food, clothing, school supplies, cooking utensils and stuffed animals. The district also did a dress-down day and raised $804 for the family.

Because the fire was a couple of days before a four-day break for Easter, donators gave the kids Easter baskets.

“When you have nothing, four days is a long time,” Hunt said.

“This is what you see any time there is a crisis,” guidance counselor Cheryl Friedman said.

Tears filled Varner-Dunn’s eyes when she was asked about MASD’s fundraiser.

“It was overwhelming,” Varner-Dunn said.

“Why are you sad?” her daughter Brookelynn asked.

“No, these aren’t sad tears, honey. These are happy tears,” Varner-Dunn said. “The school district has been amazing with the help they’ve given us. … They’re the ones who raised all the clothing so we could have clothes.”

“We do have clothes, mommy,” Brookelynn said.

“I know, thanks to the school,” Varner-Dunn said.

The family has been staying at a local hotel since the fire.

Staying in the hotel is hard, she said. The family is in two separate rooms, and the kids can’t run around and have to be quiet.

They have a small kitchenette in their hotel room which they can cook in.

A number of other groups have stepped up to help out, including the Dunns’ church, Middletown First Church of God, and the Middletown Youth Club, of which Varner-Dunn is on the board.

“We love the Dunns,” Pastor Kim Shifler said. The kids, she said, attend church programs, and Varner-Dunn and her husband often help cook. “So when we heard about the fire, we were horrified and just so thankful no one was hurt.”

Shifler said the congregation has stepped up and donated food, gift cards and money, and prayed.

“Right now, we’re just living day-by-day,” Varner-Dunn said.

The family hopes to find a place to live and move on. The kids keep her motivated, and right now she’s working on creating normalcy and routine for them.

The Middletown Youth Club is accepting donations for the family. Items can be donated at the weekly bingo night from 5 to 9:45 p.m. Thursdays at the firehouse on Adelia Street. Donations also can be sent to https://www.gofundme.com/the-dunns-fire-relief-fund. People can direct donations to Shannon Hopple-Rico by emailing her at shannonlr24@gmail.com or by calling 717-856-7438.