Donations pour in to help house fire victim Verna Campbell

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Verna Campbell holds up a brochure for the new mobile home that will soon be built on her Maple Avenue property.

Three days after a fast-moving blaze tore through the Riverhead house she shares with her daughter, completely destroying it in the process, longtime Town Hall receptionist Verna Campbell was back at work answering the phone and directing visitors Tuesday, if only for a few hours.

Ms. Campbell, who lost all her possessions in the early morning fire Saturday, has been staying with town clerk Diane Wilhelm while she awaits the hookup of a mobile home, paid for through insurance, on her Maple Avenue property. The mobile home arrived on the property about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. It has two bedrooms and 1 and 1/2 bathrooms, enough space to accommodate both women.

Ms. Campbell briefly resumed her Town Hall duties Tuesday morning as she waited for a relative to pick her up to shop for bedding.

“I love my job so much I just fall right into place,” she said, between operating the switchboard in her office in Town Hall’s front lobby.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | American Mobile Homes Leasing workers move a trailer onto Verna Campbell's property Tuesday morning.

Wearing a sweater from the Riverhead United Methodist Church gift shop and a long black skirt just purchased from Macy’s, Ms. Campbell, 78, said support and donations have already started pouring in from people all over the community.

She visited Macy’s earlier this week to start rebuilding her wardrobe with donated money.

“I was in my glory,” she said of the shopping trip.

Speaking to Ms. Campbell, one would not have known she lost not only her belongings, but three cats in the fire.

Ms. Campbell said she woke up at 5:45 a.m. Saturday and turned on the stove to heat up water for tea. She said she then went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and when she came out, some boxes stored next to the stove fell over and caught on fire.

She and her daughter, Bonnie-Sue Luce, were able to safely exit the home with the family’s dog. Ms. Campbell was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead for treatment of smoke inhalation. Police officers called Ms. Wilhelm, who rushed from her Calverton home Saturday morning to pick up Ms. Campbell. They later went to town historian Georgette Case’s house for breakfast.

Ms. Campbell knew there was one thing that could lift her spirits that day — getting her hair done at A Cut Above in Aquebogue

“It made her feel better,” Ms. Wilhelm said.

Instead of dwelling on her losses, Ms. Campbell said she’s instead been focusing on the support efforts, adding that she’s overwhelmed by the outpouring of love she’s received from the Riverhead community.

“God works in surprising ways to make his love known and to accomplish his purposes,” she said, quoting a piece of religious literature on her desk. “Even through difficult times.”

To make a donation to Ms. Campbell, items can be dropped off in Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter’s office. His executive assistant, Tara McLaughlin, is coordinating the effort.

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