Family overwhelmed by generosity after fire
Owners of Pioneer Flower Farms now need equipment for cleanup after greenhouse burns
Mieke Sikking’s eyes welled with tears as the doors of the white van opened in front of her, giving her a clear view of the hundreds of donated items packed within.
“We’re overwhelmed with the support that we’re getting,” Sikking said.
But in addition to the touching generosity of the community, she said her tears were also the result of the emotional roller coaster she and her family have been on since Friday night.
“It feels like we’re in a nightmare — a nightmare that doesn’t stop,” Sikking said.
Her family’s business Pioneer Flower Farms was devastated by a fire that tore through most of the 650,000-square-foot greenhouse complex Friday night, destroying all but roughly 30 per cent of the facility at 1900 Seventh St.
And the cause of the blaze — that was still smouldering on Monday afternoon — will likely never be known, said St. Catharines deputy fire Chief Frank Biancucci.
Biancucci said the Ontario Fire Marshal investigators determined that “they would never be able to determine the cause and origin” of the fire due to the extent of the the damage.
He said the roof of a building where the fire may have started collapsed within minutes of the firefighters arrival, trapping the flames beneath it and destroying any clues that might have allowed investigators to determine its origin.
“We’re going to classify this fire as undetermined,” Biancucci said.
He described it as “one of the largest fires the city has had” in terms of the emergency response through mutual aid agreements with neighbouring municipalities. He said five fire departments responded with 27 pieces of apparatus and as many as 100 firefighters on site at its peak.
But despite the extent of the peat moss-fueled blaze, no injuries were reported.
The blaze, however, also destroyed the residences of approximately 50 migrant workers, along with almost everything they had.
And that devastating loss motivated the community into action.
Hernder Estate Wines manager Angel Fusarelli posted a call for donations on her Facebook account, hoping some of her friends might pitch in a few items to help out. But she said she didn’t expect the response she received when that post was shared publicly.
“The community has been remarkable,” she said.
“I don’t think I realized the magnitude of social media and the outpouring of generosity,” Fusarelli said, adding items such as clothing, shoes, boots, toiletries, bedding, and furniture have been donated.
She said the community’s generosity brought tears to the eyes of the migrant workers, too.
For instance, Fusarelli said she learned Sunday that they needed bicycles. And within 20 minutes of updating her post, a trailer arrived packed full of bicycles.
“As soon as they saw they were bikes, that’s when the tears started. The smiles and the tears were just unbelievable,” she said, adding the workers rely on the bikes for personal transportation. “They were worried about the clothes on the back and where they were living but it was the bikes that really hit home.”
In addition, Fusarelli said thousands of dollars are being donated to help the workers.
“Just at the winery here, I bet we received over $10,000 in gift cards and money,” she said. “It’s just overwhelming, the support.”
Meanwhile, community donations were also collected by the
Johnson family at the plaza at 318 Ontario St., and a family friend Carli Taylor rallied for private donations, while a gofundme.com campaign called Pioneer Flower Farm Workers has raised $6,150 of its $10,000 goal as of Monday afternoon.
PenFinancial Credit Union also announced Monday that an emergency account had been set up and will be accepting donations at all eight branches.
In a media release, PenFinancial CEO Ken Janzen said the credit union is “saddened by this tragedy and want to do what we can to facilitate donations to help our friends and neighbours during this extremely difficult time.”
Fusarelli said the congregations of local churches also pitched in, including one that pitched in $1,000 in gift cards.
And by Monday morning, when Hernder Estate Wines owner Fred Hernder arrived in that white van with a fourth delivery of items collected at his winery, the donations were already overwhelming — filling several tables set up in the driveway of a home on Third Avenue Louth.
“They’re our neighbours,” Hernder said. “If the shoe was on the other foot, they’d be doing it for us.”
But now — as grateful as the family and workers are for the generosity they have seen from the community in the days since the fire — Sikking said they need time to sort through the donations they have already received before accepting any more.
“Whatever we don’t need is going to be given back to the community,” Sikking said.
She said any items that cannot be used by the workers will instead be donated to Community Care.
The family could, however, use supplies to help with the cleanup.
In a statement issued Monday, Kristen Sikking said the family has “minimal tools and safety gear for cleanup and repair of existing structures.”
Garbage bins, helmets, masks, tools, six- to eight-foot-tall ladders, shovels, brooms, bolt cutters, welding machinery, hammers, drills, screwdrivers, etc., “would be most graciously needed,” she wrote in the statement.
She asked people willing to lend them the items to drop them off at 1629 Third Ave.
The statement also says it is “crucial to the future” of the business to modify the structures that were not damaged in the fire, to allow for the continued employment of workers as they harvest current outdoor crops and fill customer orders.
“Once we get approval from the fire marshal, we will be going full force to allow operations to continue,” she wrote.
Some of the extensive damage to the Pioneer Flowers after the fire this past weekend. The cause may never be known, says deputy fire chief.
Some of the extensive damage to the Pioneer Flowers after the fire this past weekend.