Shirt collection replaced after son sets family’s house on fire

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“Within 24 hours I had 60 shirts”: It started as an effort to collect a few t-shirts. Now donations are pouring in from all over the country.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — A tragic moment has strangers stepping in to help a southern Indiana family. The Long family lost their home in May when they say one of their sons set it on fire.

Both parents and two siblings were inside. Everyone escaped unharmed, but it’s been a difficult time for them as they lost everything.

“To be honest we’re still in shock,” said Deana Long. “You feel like it’s a nightmare that you’re never going to wake up from.”

Deana Long says her son Joshua, who has special needs, doesn’t understand what’s happening.

“He just keeps asking, when am I going to go home and get my stuff?” she said.

Long says Joshua has a passion for the fire service, and had a collection proving that in his room at the time of the fire.

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“He absolutely loves going by the fire department,” said Long. “He started collecting hats, patches, fire trucks. He had four helmets and he had probably around 60 to 70 t-shirts.”

All those t-shirts were from fire departments. Long says they were all Joshua would wear, but all of them were lost in the flames.

When a neighbor heard about this, she reached out to New Albany Firefighter David Sparks’ wife.

“A mutual friend asked my wife knowing that I’m on the fire department if I’d put it out and I said sure I will,” said Sparks.

He put a post on Facebook asking fellow firefighters for shirt donations to replace Joshua’s collection.

“I expected to get 10, 15 shirts from the local departments that are around here,” said Sparks.

Instead, the post went viral. With thousands of shares in the first day.

“Within 24 hours I had 60 shirts,” said Sparks. “I have no idea how many I’m up to now. We’ve got people promising shirts from all over the country, from Canada, from Europe.”

His office at the fire station is stacked with boxes and bags. His truck is filled as well. He said he has picked up dozens from the post office in one day. Sparks says it’s not just shirts, but patches, gear and even money is being sent in for the family.

“With all the craziness that’s going on with this pandemic, people are still stepping up to help each other,” he said. “It’s always been that way in the fire service. We take care of our own, and Josh is basically considered one of our own now.”

He says he anticipates hundreds of shirts will ultimately be given to Joshua.

 “We feel so appreciative that people in the world can just love somebody else that they’ve never met,” said Long. “We thank the Lord that it’s like that.”

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