By the time Cheyenne Martin got to her mother and stepfather’s Goodview home early Dec. 16, the single-wide was destroyed.
The fire had consumed everything.
Her family – including her three children, 7-year-old Gervarian Harper, 6-year-old Tihanna Harper and 4-year-old Gabriel Trochez – escaped without major injury, but most of Martin’s worldly possessions were gone. She just had gotten off work when she received the frantic call at 4:30 a.m.
She got there as quickly as she could.
“It was just very overwhelming, just to see the place I basically grew up at go up into flames,” Martin said.
Thursday afternoon at the Bedford County Fire & Rescue Administrative Offices, Martin and her family were overwhelmed again. This time, the circumstances were much better. Having heard of the family’s tragedy, the Toys for Tots program in Roanoke wanted to help.
Cpl. Brandon Overstreet, a Bedford County native and reservist, spearheaded an effort to give Martin’s kids a Christmas after all their presents had gone up in flames unopened.
Overstreet and Lance Cpl. Stephen Fields brought boxes of toys – corrugated cardboard containers filled to their brims with bicycles, dolls, footballs, and Hot Wheels cars – and set them underneath the tree at the fire office. The kids were stunned when they walked in.
“We heard that you guys have had a tough week,” Overstreet said to the children as he welcomed them in, and Martin brushed away tears.
The children moved to their gifts as the Marines and firefighters looked on. Some of the firefighters, from Moneta’s volunteer fire department, had been among the first responders.
“I think they’re still kind of in shock,” Martin said as her children inspected their hauls. “[They’re thinking,] ‘Is all this really for us?'”
Overstreet, who heard of the tragedy from his mother in Montvale, immediately thought of the Marines’ Toys for Tots as a way to give the family a Christmas celebration.
“There was a short time frame. It was a quick push to get everything we needed set aside,” Overstreet said.
Normally, Toys for Tots products are distributed from the organization’s Roanoke warehouse. Bringing the Marines face-to-face with their recipients was a different experience.
“It’s really cool to actually get to see the faces of the children,” Fields said. “It’s very rewarding to see, very rewarding to give back.”
As a Marine reservist, Fields said, his unit, has a more intimate connection with the people they protect.
“Most people, when they think , is what they see in the news,” he said. “What they don’t know is that in the Reserves, we do like to give back to our communities and show the support that they show us during times of conflict.”
Thursday’s event was coordinated by Bedford County Fire Marshal Jeff Pauley, who acted as the liaison between the Marines and Martin’s family. Pauley invited them all to meet at the county office.
“I had no idea that they were going to have this waiting for them when we got here,” said Martin.
The toys were the latest in a long line of support Martin said her family has gotten.
“There’s been so many people that have come forth to help us. It’s just so overwhelming,” she said. “I can’t keep up with everything and get back to everybody.”
Her employer, The Back 40 restaurant in Moneta, has donated a shed behind the restaurant for the family to store their belongings while they get back on their feet. The restaurant still is accepting donations and has a list of needed items on its Facebook page.
“Strangers that I don’t even know have come forth,” Martin said, “just to make sure the kids had clothes on their back and food to eat.”
That line grew longer Thursday.