The Sunday before Christmas looked no different than that of other Oakdale families for Kim Manley, her husband Manuel Perez and their family. The day was spent enjoying one another’s company and looking forward to the holiday to come.
What they didn’t know that day was that night, everything would drastically change.
“We heard some boom sounds,” Manley said of the first indication that something was off.
It was about 6 p.m. The family had settled in and Manley was playing in the living room with her granddaughter. Upon hearing the sounds from the area of their garage, her husband went to inspect. He quickly returned, ushering the family out of the home.
“I think he was getting texts, too,” she said of the neighbors alerting the family. “I would have ignored those.”
Manley shared in that moment, she was simply present with her family, enjoying the time with her three-year-old granddaughter, the Christmas tree and seeing the gifts soon to be opened.
“I’m so glad he was home, because I would have ignored those,” she said of the texts her husband received.
Upon exiting the front door of their Crane Road home, Manley looked back and saw flames engulfing her husband’s truck. The hours that followed were filled with confusion and containment efforts, as fire crews worked to keep the blaze from taking over the entire home.
“I could see the garage burning, but it hadn’t got to the house,” she said. “All I could see was my living room window with my Christmas tree in it. I wanted it out before it got to the house, to save Christmas.”
By late night Manley and Perez were in the comfort of a friend’s home for the night. The children were with friends and family. The devastation at the point of their leaving had been contained to the garage and master suite. The couple left the home believing they would be displaced a few months for rebuilding of those spaces.
As fate would have it, the back deck of the friend’s home where they were staying overlooks the couple’s home. Manley shared that her husband woke early the following morning, feeling drawn to return to the home and begin sorting through the devastation. With just a few hours of sleep, they retreated to the back deck for a cup of coffee and noticed fire trucks were again at the residence. Yet, she gave it little thought; as crews had shared they’d return to the site periodically through the night ensuring containment. Yet, that wasn’t the case.
Returning to the site that morning, the couple learned that the fire had restarted during the night and they would now be in recovery mode. Pulling up to the home, she was surprised by an army of close to 30 friends who had rallied to help the couple retrieve and pack whatever was left.
“They’d all been there for hours,” she said. “There were so many people. It was overwhelming because it was the holidays and people came.”
According to Manley the work continued throughout the entirety of Christmas Eve. Friends came to help, one brought a storage trailer, some brought sandwiches, others brought pizza and even coffee.
“Everyone gave up their Christmas Eve and were at my house,” she said, visibly affected. “Most people were there until they had to go to the place they were going.”
While much was destroyed – if not by fire, by water damage – it was the things which remained standing that grabbed the attention of the family.
“Anything that said ‘Faith,’ had a cross, everybody’s Bibles survived … Everybody’s Bibles survived,” Manley, a Christian, stated emphatically.
Even more astounding, the tree still stood just as they had left it. All the gifts remained unscathed.
“Even though the gifts survived they weren’t really functional,” Manley shared. “I bought my kids snowboard pants and lift tickets to Dodge, but their snowboards were in the garage. I bought my husband seat covers for his buggy, and there’s no buggy.”
All the “toys” which once entertained the active family are now gone. The garage held the bikes, snowboards, paddleboards, motorcycle and Perez’s prize possession, a rock buggy.
Yet the family stays encouraged and feels incredibly blessed to not only still have one another, but to live in a community which has stopped at nothing to help them in a time of need.
The challenge now is the how and the what to do for a family who now finds themselves in a 500 square foot temporary space. A space, which they are grateful for, yet learning to manage all the same.
“I don’t want to pretend that we have it all together and we’re fine because we’re not,” Manley said honestly. “We have a lot of recovery ahead of us, but that’s later.”
The generosity of people interested in giving stuff, however, is not one which currently serves the family. With a limited fully furnished space, there is no room for stuff. Manley shared that gift cards are useful as the family works to replenish their clothing, shoes and the like.
“I don’t need anything, that’s the hardest part,” she said. “But knowing in the future how much will be needed … That’s just hard.”
Manley and Perez are known for their generosity and giving hearts for those in need. To be on the other side for the couple has not been easy, yet they are learning.
“I know that to help other people is where it’s at,” she said. “As humbling as it is to receive help, I know it blesses the person that’s letting that happen.”
A Go Fund Me account has been set up for the family under Support for Kim and Manuel. A bank account at Bank of Stockton in Oakdale has also been established to help the family with future needs.
“It’s about the people,” she said of living through the experience. “It’s about community. We’re all connected. What you put out there is what you get back.”
She added that the family knows they will come through to the other side.
“You put time in, you get time out,” she summarized. “God is bigger than all of this.”