Community members flocked to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame this Saturday to buy barbecue sandwiches and make donations in support of Carolyn Hayes, a longtime Dawson County resident who lost her home and possessions in a fire this fall.
On Sept. 25, Hayes’ home caught fire from a gas explosion. Her daughter Angela was inside at the time of the fire, and suffered second and third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body. Now, almost two months later, Angela is still in the hospital and Carolyn Hayes is life from the fire’s devastation.
Hayes’ family members, spearheaded by her cousin Pamela Hamalainen, organized a GoFundMe fundraiser to help fund Hayes’ rebuilding efforts, but quickly realized that they would have to explore other avenues of raising money too.
“I put up a GoFundMe account which raised about $6,000 but that isn’t enough to rebuild, so I came up with the idea of doing a fundraiser to sell barbecue,” Hamalainen said. “And that way we get to see the community and the community can meet Carolyn and it becomes more personal.”
Hamalainen organized the fundraiser, and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame donated the space to hold the event at. Hayes’ family members and friends from church all helped to set up and run the event.
“All of us are all teamed up, and my whole family helped cook,” said Liz Porter, another of Hayes’ cousins. “It’s been days and days to cook all the meat; I bet we cooked over 50 pounds of meat.”
Porter owns Buckeye Creek Farm, a farm in Woodstock that sells to restaurants and includes a farm kitchen that Porter uses for bulk cooking. She and her family smoked and donated all the barbecue sold at the fundraiser.
The event was advertised ahead of time on Facebook, and Hamalainen said that dozens of community members came out to the event to support their fundraising efforts.
“It’s been wonderful,” Hamalainen said. “Before we even finished setting up we had a crowd of people here, so we’ve done well.”
Hayes said that the support from the Dawson County community, both from individuals and from local churches and businesses, has been overwhelming in the weeks since she lost her home.
“The community has been really great, there’s different churches that have donated a lot of gift cards and money to me,” Hayes said. “And I’ve gotten clothes and some beautiful furniture and other donations — Byrd’s Mini Storage donated a storage unit to put donations in until the house is built, and the storage unit is pretty much filled up with just donations.”
Hayes also received donations of time and services from several local businesses.
“Townley Construction cleared the whole property for no charge, and there’s other people going to come out and help rebuild,” Hayes said.
Previously, Hayes’ home was a mobile home fueled by propane gas, but Hamalainen said the goal is to build her a house that’s fully electric, without any gas.
“Our goal was to build a house instead of putting a mobile home back there because it had propane gas and it was a gas leak that caused the explosion,” Hamalainen said. “So Reliance Heating and Air is going to donate all the labor and equipment so everything will be total electric, with no gas.”
One of the biggest reasons for rebuilding with electric and not gas is for safety in the future, and because of Hayes’ daughter Angela.
“Angela was in the house when the explosion happened, and she was hurt really bad,” Hamalainen said. “We want to build her a house that’s total electric, so that when Angela comes home she won’t have that fear of the gas.”
Hayes said that her daughter’s burns are healing slowly, but that her lungs were very badly damaged from smoke inhalation during the fire and that she is currently on life support.
“Her lungs are in bad shape cause she swallowed fire, but her burns are healing up pretty good,” Hayes said.
Hayes said that having her house rebuilt by the time her daughter is released from the hospital will be a relief for Angela, who has been in a medically induced coma since the day of the fire and therefore has no idea what has been happening since.
“It’ll be a burden lifted from Angela when she comes home from the hospital, and something for her to be thankful for,” Hayes said. “It’ll be a home for her to come back to.”
Hayes has lived in Dawson County since 1995, and said that in her time in Dawson she’s come to know many wonderful people. Since the day of the fire, she said that she has been humbled by the support so many people in the community have shown her.
“A lot of people are just donating whatever they can,” Hayes said. “It really helps to put a smile on my face, and it makes me proud to be a member of Dawson County.”
Hamalainen said that any donation, no matter how small, can help Hayes and her family in their efforts to rebuild her home.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small the donations are,” Hamalainen said. “Any amount helps; we are truly grateful for even a dollar because those dollars add up.”
To donate to the efforts to rebuild Hayes’ home, go to www.gofundme.com/f/fkuceb-care-for-carolyn or email Pamela Hamalainen at email@example.com.