Neighbors collect goods for victims who lost home

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Brian and Shannon Schaller stand outside their ruined Aquebogue home Wednesday afternoon.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Brian Schaller and and his daughter, Shannon, stand outside their ruined Aquebogue home last week.

A pile of plastic bags sat in a corner of Claire Conforti’s dining room Tuesday morning, filled with clothes and donated items. Down the street, a neighbor’s garage was filled with gifts waiting to be delivered, Ms. Conforti said.

Giving to those in need is second nature to Ms. Conforti, a nurse by profession. So when her neighbors across Trout Brook Lane in Aquebogue lost everything last week in a devastating house fire, she and other neighbors sprang into action.

“That’s what we do … we all help each other,” Ms. Conforti said. “It could have been any one of us.”

Friends, neighbors and complete strangers have donated dozens of items to Brian and Shannon Schaller, the father and daughter who escaped from their burning home last Monday. Though the pair got out with only a few burns, all of their possessions — from their savings to their beloved pet lab, Max — were lost in the fire.

Neighbors immediately began planning ways to help them get back on their feet.

“We gave them a whole bunch of stuff last week,” said neighbor Barbara Kummer. Another next-door neighbor has left food out each day for the Schaller’s pet cat, Honey Bunny, who has been missing since the fire.

Ms. Conforti said Mr. Schaller had been there to support her in a time of need and she feels she is now able to repay the favor.

“I get a text [asking how to help] almost every day,” Ms. Conforti said. “People just keep dropping things off at my house.”

One neighbor, a disabled man, gave Mr. Schaller a new pair of Timberland boots worth nearly $250, Ms. Conforti said. Mr. Schaller cried when he received the gift, she said.

The neighbors are looking for a way to set up a fund to provide money for the pair, Ms. Conforti said.

In the meantime, a trailer will be set up on the Schaller property and neighbors hope to get some furniture for the family.

Reached this week, Mr. Schaller said he was “getting by” after the fire, thanks in large part to the help of his neighbors.

“I didn’t think I had any family because my parents are gone, but it turns out I have family all over the place,” he said. “My neighbors are all family.”

Mr. Schaller, who is staying on a friend’s couch for the time being, said his daughter is staying with her mother in Pennsylvania. He said times have been tough since the fire; he’s often in pain from the set of fake teeth that burned in his mouth in last week’s fire.

He’s not the type to cry, but Mr. Schaller said he’s found himself tearing up due to the kindness of others.

“People have been so nice to me,” he said in a trembling voice. “They do all this for me. It’s mind-blowing.”

Those looking to donate items for the Schallers can drop off donations at 201 Trout Brook Lane in Aquebogue.

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