Grassroots effort asks for help after being overwhelmed with donations for fire victims
Since two people were killed and dozens were displaced by the Royal Suite Lodge fire, clothes, children’s toys and other donations have poured into McClain’s Car Doctor in South Anchorage. The garage has become a distribution point for a donation effort that originated on social media.
The garage’s former owner, Dan McClain, is the former father-in-law of Katie McClain-Engelking, who was seriously injured while trying to escape from the fire. He said there are so many donations in the garage, it has become difficult to get work done.
“It got a little overwhelming for a little while there because we didn’t have enough help,” McClain said.
During the last few days, volunteers have sorted the clothes into bags based on gender and age. It has streamlined the process for displaced families arriving to collect donations. McClain is hoping more people will arrive to collect the donated items, but is worried some people displaced by the fire do not have a way to get there.
“I’m sure some of them don’t have rides,” McClain said. “Some of them don’t know where to go.”
His donation drive started after he heard his former daughter-in-law and her husband, Andrew Engelking, were hurt while jumping from their third-floor apartment at the Royal Suite Lodge. According to McClain-Engelking’s father, Tom Ewell, Engelking jumped out the window first when he realized the escape path down the stairway was not accessible due to flames.
His wife then lowered two of her children — one of whom she had with her ex-husband and one with Engelking — to Engelking, who did his best to break their fall despite having suffered a broken leg. McClain-Engelking, who was 26-weeks pregnant at the time, fell last.
Doctors delivered her baby via an emergency Cesarean section at Providence Alaska Medical Center. Ewell said she was then flown to the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, as she had burns on 18 percent of her body. Unable to speak, she used a piece of paper to write the newborn girl’s name: Liberty.
“She was pretty adamant that she wanted that baby to be named Liberty,” said Ewell, who spoke to KTVA from Harborview Sunday.
He said Liberty is currently recovering at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Providence, and is progressing well. McClain-Engelking had back surgery and is expected to make a full recovery from it, according to Ewell. He said her husband’s efforts to catch the children were effective, as “neither one of them had a scratch on them.”
As news of the family’s situation spread, loved ones started three separate online fundraising campaigns in addition to the donation drive. Ewell said while the family is still in need of frequent flier miles, he is incredibly grateful for the support.
“I have no true word for it. I’m so appreciative,” he said through tears.
McClain said he was similarly overwhelmed by the community’s response.
“It restored my faith in humanity,” he said. “My heart has swelled up because of it.”
Anyone displaced by either the Royal Suite Lodge or Chester Creek Estates fires are welcome to pick up supplies at McClain’s Car Doctor.
The garage is located at 6631 Wes Way, not far from the intersection of Arctic Boulevard and Raspberry Road. McClain recommended calling ahead if you are not arriving during regular business hours: 907-272-3287.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated Dan McClain was the current owner of McClain’s Car Doctor. This has been amended.
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