Parish comes together after family faces devastating loss

St. Michael Church, community gives back to parishioners who lost home, belongings to fire

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SMITHFIELD — While on short stay at the hospital, Melany Shepard awoke to breaking news of a house fire in Smithfield. When she heard the street name and saw video footage of her own home engulfed in flames, she was speechless. Everyone was safe and out of the house at the time, but the loss of her home is a tragedy for her family.

Shepard, a first grade religious education teacher at St. Michael’s Church, explained that the fire severely damaged her family home, the house that she grew up in, and destroyed their belongings. She was living there with her 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who had thankfully been staying the night with relatives the night of the fire.

“I don’t think it’s totally understood yet, the magnitude of what has happened,” said Shepard. “It was very hard for me to wake up and see that on the news.”

Despite the devastating loss, the Shepard family has found great comfort in the generosity of their long-time parish St. Michael Church.

Shortly after the fire, Father Richard Valentine, pastor of St. Michael’s, visited Shepard in the hospital to offer words of comfort and hope.

“I told her, our parish will help you and Elizabeth in any way we can. It’s going to be all right,” he said.

The finances required to start to rebuild their lives is staggering, but that did not stop the church community from immediately taking up a second collection for the family, organizing an upcoming youth ministry car wash as well as a pasta dinner to help the Shepards get on their feet again. The local community has also reached out to help including Elizabeth’s former Old County Road School, who created a “Go Fund Me” website for donations. The neighboring parish and school of St. Philip’s in Greenville, where Elizabeth also attended, donated a special collection which brought in both financial help and gift cards for the Shepard family.

“They lost everything,” said Bill Bowden, pastoral assistant at St. Michael’s. “The morning after the fire it was a shock, but the phones starting ringing, people were calling from all around the community. They were ready to donate furniture from their house, everything. It’s a terrible thing that has happened, but it shows what kind of community we have. They all come together to help.”

Bowden explained that the support has been overwhelming and that it steadily continues a month after the fire. Volunteers are asking local businesses to donate food and desserts for the dinner, which will be held on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. in the parish center.

Today, the mother and daughter are staying with family in a nearby trailer. It’s a difficult time, but Shepard shared that she is so moved by the outpouring of love from her parish and community.

“One thing I have always loved about St. Mike’s is that it isn’t just a parish — it is a family,” she said. “I feel like since this has happened they have come together to help my daughter and I. There are a lot of kind hearted people that really care about one another.”

Not only has her daughter grown up spiritually at St. Michael’s, making all of her sacraments and serving as an altar girl at the parish, Shepard’s parents were also deeply devoted to St. Michael’s since they were children.

“It’s a close-knit church family and we have roots in Smithfield and at St. Michael’s,” she explained. “We are trying hard to find a place for my daughter and I to live and stay in Smithfield.”

A religious educator at the parish and in the diocese for many years, Shepard explained that the youth have taught her just as much about life and the faith as she has taught them.

“We’ve learned together,” she said. “I hope I’ve made an impact on them and hope they will remember how important being a part of parish family is.”

Shepard also added that she knows that the beautiful example of kindness and generosity her daughter has witnessed in those helping their family in this time of need has had an amazing impact on her.

“She has seen how kind and loving people can be when you need them,” she said. “It’s another expression of showing her how important it is to be a part of this parish family. She has a very good heart for people and I’ve tried very hard to instill those roots in my daughter. It’s a wonderful atmosphere at St. Michael’s and we are so grateful.”

OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP THE SHEPARD FAMILY

CAR WASH

Saturday, August 6, from 10 a.m. – noon, at the 7/11 on Rt. 7 Douglas Pike. Please contact Ashley Allard at 401-578-2944 or email ashleyallard@yahoo.com

PASTA DINNER FUNDRAISER

Saturday, August 13 at 6 p.m., Parish Center. Please call the parish for more information, 401-231-5119.

GO FUND ME

www.gofundme.com/29fjt3z8!

Donations to the Shepard Fire Fund may be sent to the rectory, St. Michael's Catholic Church, 80 Farnum Pike, Georgiaville, RI 02917. Checks should be made out to St. Michael’s Church. All funds will be deposited into a managed special account at a local bank.