Although Shirley Williams lost her home and possessions in a fire a few days before Christmas, the Wrens resident is counting her blessings.
Ms. Williams, an employee in McDuffie County's finance department, has been overwhelmed by the generosity of co-workers who donated their Christmas bonuses -- $25 gift cards from Wal-Mart -- to help her and her daughter start over.
Shirley Williams holds one of the many donations she's received since a fire destroyed her home last week.
County employees donated about $1,800 in Wal-Mart gift cards and cash, said Pam Workman, staff accountant who helped with the effort.
Ms. Williams' mobile home off Hwy. 1 South in Wrens was destroyed by fire around midnight, Dec. 20. She escaped injury, but was not able to salvage much from the blaze which destroyed the interior of the home and imbedded items that survived the fire with the pungent odor of smoke.
She was touched by the kindness of co-workers, many of whom she had never met, she said.
"They didn't have to give their Christmas bonuses, but they did and it meant a lot," Ms. Williams said.
"You know people care, but you don't realize how many care," she added.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who pulled together to help me and my daughter. It meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to her."
Initially, nine-year-old Aaliyah was very upset over the loss of their home and belongings.
"Mama, we are poor. We don't have anything," her mom said she stated right after the fire.
Ms. Williams comforted her daughter, and after she had calmed down, Aaliyah said she realized God had given not just one blessing, but two.
Aaliyah told her mother, "First, he gave you a blessing. He let you get out of there safe.
"Next, he gave me a blessing because he kept you alive. If you had died, I wouldn't have a mama."
Her daughter's sentiments touched her heart, Ms. Williams said, and those words are consoling her as she searches for a new place to live. She is now staying with her sister and looking for a new home for herself and her daughter. That search could be difficult, Ms. Williams said, because she had no insurance on her trailer that might help pay for another place to live.
Ms. Williams' plight was on the mind of county employees from the start. County Clerk Annette Finley alerted the commissioners shortly after the fire, and was happy to see such a quick, generous response.
"I was just really pleased with the donations and the money and everything else," she said. "There's no good time for that to happen anyway, but at this particular time, and with a small child too..."
Commissioner Fred Favors, one of the first to hear of the fire, was also touched by the county's response.
"We compliment the county employees for their generosity and their giving spirit," he said. "For them to reach out to someone who suffered such a tragedy -- we compliment them on that and we praise them for the effort."
Staff writer Kristopher Wells contributed to this report.