SHRUB OAK, N.Y. -- On Sunday, Maria Prin was doing errands with her boyfriend when she got a call from a number she didn’t recognize. She ignored it, but when the same number immediately dialed back, she picked it up.
“I figured it must be urgent,” she said. It was. Her son, Alec Levine, 26, was calling to let her know that the house they had lived in for the past 23 years was on fire. Levine escaped out a second-floor window and jumped safely off the portico onto the ground. He was using the phone of someone in the neighborhood who stopped to help.
The family lost their 15-month-old dog, Mister, who Prin said likely succumbed to smoke inhalation while sleeping. Two of their cats are still missing and many of their possessions were destroyed.
Since the fire, which started in a little-used dining room, friends, family and anonymous people from around the world have shown their support to help get the family back on their feet.
A GoFundMe page set up by close friend Michelle Carter has raised about $6,700 and neighbors Scott Nelsen and Curt Chase have arranged a "Dine to Donate" campaign at Frankie & Augie'Z Ristorante and Pizzeria in Jefferson Valley on Feb. 6, during which 20 percent of all the restaurant sales that day will be donated to the family.
Prin, 57, and Levine are temporarily staying at the home of her ex-husband, Mitchell Levine, in Peekskill, while she looks for a place.
“To see all these people come together… I cannot believe the outpouring of support we’ve gotten. It’s overwhelming,” she said, adding, “I don’t know how to thank all these people. I am so humbled and honored that people have come to aid us. I just want to thank people with what meager words I have.”
As for the home and the inanimate items burned in the fire, Prin said they are “just stuff” that can be replaced.
She said the incident delivered a message that it's time to move on and downsize, even after she fought so hard the last several years to keep the home, after losing a good-paying paralegal job in 2010.
After that, she said, “It was very hard to find work, partly because of the economy, partly because I had been doing it for long and my pay rate was so high that they could find two kids out of school for one of me. So it was very hard to find a job and I just took odd jobs here and there.
“I was in foreclosure, and it seemed every single time I thought, ‘This is it,’ something came along, as my daughter would say, ‘You pulled another miracle out of your hat.’ And somehow I managed to stay in the house.”
Finally, there was supposed to be a foreclosure sale on Dec. 19, but again Prin was able to get help to stop the sale and put the house on the market. She said someone was interested in buying it, and a sale process would have given her time to get things in order to find a new place.
“And then this happened. It’s almost as if I had told by a higher power, ‘You don’t belong here. Why are you not getting that?’”
“I used to tell friends of mine, ‘Well, the universe tries to tell you subtly if you weren’t listening.’ Well, this is the shovel upside the head. Get out! Whack!”
From the fall through spring, Prin now works at a fabric store in Yorktown, and during the summer she is costumer at the New York Renaissance Fair in Tuxedo, working closely with the Guild of St. George.
As someone who looks to the bright side of things, Prin said she’s happy that sentimental items such as a night table her father made, a kitchen table and cabinet that was in the family since she was a child and another table that was her mother's survived the fire.
"That [kitchen] table is sitting in 6 inches of rubble and debris, but that table is fine," Prin said. "The little night table that my father made and the other table that was in the living that was my mom’s that are in the living room -- they’re fine. His table probably needs to be sanded down and needs a fresh coat of varnish or something, but it’s fine. It didn’t burn. The TV set, which was right next to it, and the cabinet it was on, they’re gone. Don’t tell me mamma wasn’t watching. So little things like that let me know that this was meant to send me a sign.”