Neighbors help after military family's house burns

December 24, 2011 6:15:35 AM PST
A family whose home burned down this week is getting help from the community. The homeowner's son is serving in Afghanistan.

His wife and children were living there. Friday night, the kids received toys and clothing from members of two military support groups.

Even before disaster struck, Mandy Ruckman knew this Christmas would be difficult. Her husband, an Iraq War veteran, left for Afghanistan earlier this month, but now, a family separated by war faces other challenges here at home.

"All the people we don't know coming with things and sending cards and donations," said Ruckman. "I've never seen anything like it."

For Ruckman, there have been few smiles this week. On Monday, her in-laws' house in suburban Homer Glen, where she and her three daughters had been staying, caught fire and burned down.

"It was surreal," said Mandy Ruckman. "I mean, I was screaming, 'Oh my god, oh my god.'"

Lost were family keepsakes, three vehicles, the family's clothes, and all of their Christmas presents.

Ruckman's husband, Michael, who is fighting in Afghanistan, was told by his commanders he could not leave the war.

"He's off protecting our country, and his kids need him, and he's still protecting all of us," said Lockport resident Lisa Lovelace.

So the community has stepped up to protect this family. Dozens have donated clothes and toys.

Friday night, representatives from two military family support groups came with gifts and a message for Mandy and her husband.

"He's got to know when he can't come home to take care of his family that there will be people there to support his family until he can get home," said Barbara Fitzpatrick of Warriors Watch.

"The stress, the pressure - I mean, she is just a remarkable woman to be able to carry on, go through," said Debbie Trippiedi of Operation Mom's Cookies.

For now, Mandy, her kids, and her in-laws are staying with friends. She says this is still a merry Christmas for her and her family.

"Absolutely, we have our family together - it'd be better if our husband were able to be here with us, but he's doing his job," said Ruckman.

The Ruckmans' daughters are just six, two, and seven months of age. An account has been set up at all Harris banks in the name of the Ruckmans and the Kadows, Mandy's in-laws, to help them with the tough road ahead.

The cause of Monday's fire is still unknown.

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