LELAND — Lenwood and Pearl Ballard have lived in the Northwest community all of their eight decades of life. Thanks to an outpouring of community support, the husband and wife will not be displaced too long from the comforts of home, despite losing everything to a fire last month.
Fire crews arrived to Lenwood and Pearl’s home on the morning of Sept. 24 to flames engulfing their residence. Fortunately, the Ballards were not home when the structure caught fire; Lenwood had dropped Pearl at her dialysis appointment, where she goes three times a week. He was at the grocery store when he got the call.
“My neighbor called and said I didn’t have no house,” Lenwood said.
An investigation into how the blaze started has not been confirmed to Port City Daily after multiple calls to the Northwest Volunteer Fire Department went unanswered. A spokesperson for Leland said the Leland Fire Department assisted but could not provide further details.
“Firemen think it was either one of the old plug-in heaters put in the bathroom to get it warm, while Pearl got ready for dialysis, or issues with the hot water heater overheating,” neighbor Beth Pence said.
The Ballards did not have home insurance and lost all of their belongings, from clothing, furniture and sentimental items to lawn mowers and appliances.
“I let it lapse,” Lenwood said of the insurance. “I couldn’t afford it and never did get back to it. My wife kept telling me, ‘You need to do it,’ but I just didn’t have the funds at the time.”
On Oct. 13, Pence — whose family built on 20 acres next door to the Ballards over a year ago — kickstarted a fundraising effort to help purchase their neighbors a new home. Over 400 people have donated — the largest a $12,000 anonymous gift — reaching 80% of its goal. By press, the GoFundMe collected over $54,000.
Lenwood explained they would not have been able to replace their home, without the generosity of their community and others who don’t even know the family.
The money will go toward the purchase of a single-wide mobile home for the couple on their 0.88 acres.
“They were already going through a hard time and they’re so well-known for being pillars of this community,” Pence said. “They more than deserve this.”
When Lenwood headed to pick up his wife after getting the news, he said his only thought was her reaction. He also worried over her health, since Pearl usually needed to rest for about two to three hours after her dialysis treatment.
“When I got there, I looked at her, she was looking at me,” Lenwood recalled. “She said, ‘Someone called me and told me the house burned down.’ She already knew. It took a lot of pressure off my wondering how she was going to react.”
The couple, married 65 years, are staying with their son, who also lives on the same street. But room is limited.
“I’m looking forward to getting my own space back,” Lenwood said.
There is a $68,000 goal for the GoFundMe. Pence said, once reached, she will order the two-bedroom manufactured home, already negotiated at a discounted price with Clayton Homes. The hope is to have the Ballards resettled by Thanksgiving.
“They’ve never lived anywhere but that road,” Pence said. “They deserve to live the rest of their days on their land.”
Since the ‘60s, Lenwood and Pearl have made a home on family-owned land. They’re heavily involved at Bethel North West AME Church, a little over a mile from their house. Lenwood said they’ve been going there all their lives.
One area the fire didn’t reach was the garden — its bounty often shared with the community and church congregation. The 86-year-old said the daily activity “keeps him loose.”
“It’s better than sitting around doing nothing,” he said. “I’ve never been able to do that.”
His shed nearby, with all his tools, burned. The fundraiser will not cover replacement of equipment or storage space.
“It might be where someone can donate tools to him — all the things he’s lost,” Pence said. “He’s not an idle man, he likes to be working — taking care of his property.”
Pence said she has been in talks with a company who is willing to bulldoze the shell of the burned structure for free. Donations have been secured for new appliances and the labor it will take to install necessary electricity and plumbing.
The new home will be slightly larger — up to 820 square feet from 792 square feet. What the Ballards are most looking forward to is having central air and heat for the first time.
Their former home was heated by a wood-fired stove, Pence explained. The community rallied to chop down enough wood this year to last the couple through cold months.
“God put it on my heart to help them,” Pence said. “We are literally built for community and to be there for each other. I believe in every fiber of my being we will get across the finish line.”
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