COLUMBIA — Joel Sager hadn't been in contact with Leanna Lee since high school. But, when he learned of the Saturday morning fire that displaced Lee and her family, he knew he had to help his former high school classmate.
Sager, owner of local PS Gallery, decided to use his gallery space as a hub for people to donate clothing, food and money to the family.
Anything not lost in the fire was damaged by water or smoke, Sager said.
"They're starting from the ground up," he said.
It was around 6 a.m. Saturday when Lee's mother, Donna Clifford, heard the family's neighbors banging on the door, screaming that there was a fire.
Clifford, Lee and Lee's four children, Cooper, 17, Marissa, 7, Jaden Martin, 7, and Aubree, 20 months, quickly left the apartment, leaving all their belongings behind.
"We are still in shock. We just kind of walk around, zombie-like, but there's so much to do," Clifford said. "It's hard to sleep at night because you just dream about it. It was the worst day of my life. It was the worst day of our lives."
But the family's situation has improved since then. Sager brought them toys, clothes, food and gift cards from numerous donors, Clifford said.
"Efforts have been good," Sager said. "There was a stutter at first because people didn't want to donate clothing until they knew specific needs."
The family's clothing sizes have since been added to the PS Gallery Facebook page. Any donations for the family can be dropped off at the downtown gallery, 1025 E. Walnut St.
The Red Cross also deployed six Boone County caseworkers to the scene Saturday, said Dave Griffith, executive director of the American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter.
Infant formula, temporary housing, a debit card to buy food and referrals to the chapter's partner agencies were provided for the family, Griffith said.
"It's amazing that people are helping us as much as they are," Clifford said. "Everybody and anybody is helping to do something. The community has pulled together and done a lot of stuff for us."
Although some of the family's immediate material needs have been met, finding a home has proved difficult for the family of six. They're currently staying in a suite in a Columbia hotel.
One of the children, Jaden, who is autistic, keeps putting his hands in the shape of a roof, Clifford said.
"He doesn't understand why we aren't home," she said.
Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.