Feeling the pain of Altoona neighbors

By Louise Burkholder

Here in Altoona, a good neighbor is a special blessing.

Those lucky enough to have one here or anywhere else knows the particular bond that a neighbor shares with you that your friends elsewhere do not.

From the vantage point of your yard or your porch, you see all that transpires in the coming and going of these friends.

You watch children play, then date, leave home, maybe return.

New cars and wrecked cars, illnesses and recoveries, marriages, divorces, aging parents, troubled siblings, planting flowers and cutting down trees … all of this plays out before your eyes.

You hear each others’ spousal arguments and know which teens have hit the back-talk stage.

And yet you are there always, through thick and thin and joy and sorrow as neighbors, as friends.

To step outside as I did last week to see my neighbor’s house ablaze, to stand there trying to encircle the people I love with inadequate arms, to witness the shock and pain, I have never felt so helpless.

We took the children over to our porch to feed and entertain them, but all around swirled the noise of that horrible scene.

A warm day, the pre-schoolers were in their underwear, the older boy in sleepwear, and no one grabbed shoes as they fled.

Into this chaos stepped the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

Within the hour, a woman approached our porch with new clothing to fit each child, character pajamas for the little ones, and sporty attire for the older boy (my buddy for 10 years).

Brand new cuddly toys were handed out and gratefully clutched by each child.

With glass and debris flying from the windows, every adult was provided with perfectly fitting mule slippers, all of this courtesy of the Salvation Army.

Several hours later, the families were able to move into hotel rooms, this time courtesy of the Red Cross.

These gestures of care provided the underpinnings of strength everyone needed to get through the ordeal.

I personally can not begin to express the thanks I feel toward those institutions demonstrating the love that is charity, and the charity that is love. It is one thing to be aware that these organizations exist, but let me tell you it’s quite another to witness them in action.

I may never stand on my porch again and shout morning greetings across the street, and my loss now feels unbearable, but there is solace in knowing no one in Altoona is without help in an emergency.

I urge others to support our local Red Cross and Salvation Army and again, I thank them for their service.

Burkholder resides in Altoona.