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Coupon group helps NC family recover from fire

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com
GNK2693N7.4
- PHOTO COURTESY OF JESSICA DAVIS
Jessica Davis was encouraged to discover that her family Bible survived the April 13 fire that destroyed her Pilot Mountain home.

An hour and a half into her shift at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center on April 13, Jessica Davis’ phone erupted into text, phone and voice mail notifications.

When she finally answered, she recalled that her mother started with: “The kids are OK.”

The family’s rental home in Pilot Mountain had been destroyed by fire. Her husband and five children had made it out alive, but everything – from clothing to food, toiletries to beds – was gone. And the family, she said, did not have renter’s insurance.

“My heart was broken,” said Davis, 31. “The babies had no clothes on, just diapers. The 4- and 5-year old just had their night clothes on. …We lost everything.”

On Sunday, members of a Charlotte-based Facebook group dedicated to couponing drove to Pilot Mountain to deliver a truckload of toys, clothing, food, toiletries and even furniture to Davis’ family. They had collected the items over several days, borrowing from stockpiles they’ve collected from extreme couponing and collecting donations to purchase furniture.

“It was amazing,” Davis said. “These people who lived that far away are bringing us everything to get our lives rebuilt.”

Pamela Gregory, who started the Block Burnin Couponers group seven months ago, said she wanted to have a charity arm to the organization, which has more than 4,600 members.

“It’s all about paying it forward,” Gregory said. “Couponers get such a bad name. Everybody says we’re getting all this merchandise for free and we’re clearing shelves. We wanted to show we can put something positive into the community by helping families.”

During the group’s first month, she asked members to sponsor a family in need, which would ultimately become a monthly tradition.

The families are known as “AJO” families, which stands for Alyssa Josephine O’Neill, a teenager from Erie, Pa., who died in September 2013 of an epileptic seizure. Right before she died, O’Neill asked her mother to take her to get a pumpkin spice latte.

After she died, her parents went to a local Starbucks and purchased lattes for 40 strangers. They asked the store manager to write the hashtag #AJO on each cup in honor of their daughter.

Since then, the initials AJO have become a symbol for random acts of kindness.

Kim Quigley, who used to work with Davis at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, is a recent addition to the Facebook group. When she heard about the house fire, she asked the group members if they would make the Davis family their AJO family for April.

“It can happen to anybody at any time,” said Block Burnin Couponers member Tiah Esters, who drove up to Pilot Mountain on Sunday with other members to drop off the items. “It just feels good to be able to give back.”

Members donated a slew of items, including beds, a sofa, an entertainment center, linens, pots, pans, towels, an Xbox, clothes, toys, detergent, deodorant and toothpaste. The group also gave the family $500 to help pay for the hotel stay as well as a number of gift cards that members had collected from various sources.

Davis said the family will keep most of the items in storage until they’re able to move out of the hotel and find a permanent home.

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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