Just 10 days before the holidays, the Mancera family lost everything in a house fire.
After Southern Manatee firefighters cleared the scene, almost nothing was left other than rubble and the charred interior of their rented residence on 15th Street East.
On Thursday morning, just in time for Christmas, the Manceras received an outpouring from the community at the Southern Manatee Fire Rescue office.
“Thank you so much,” said Valentine Mancera, 30, as he and his wife, Maria, stood at the station overcome with emotion. “We appreciate it. It’s surprising to see that a lot of people helped. My kids have never seen so many toys.”
With the children clinging to their parents, they stared at about 50 wrapped gifts under the tree from businesses and individuals.
The effort came together after community members read about the fire in the Bradenton Herald and contacted the fire department.
Firefighters organized donations to help the family have a Christmas.
“We had an outpouring of donations,” Southern Manatee Rescue Battalion Chief Herb Smith said. “People who saw the article in the paper started making phone calls. We had people who didn’t have a whole lot in their wallets, but they were digging for money to give.”
Maria Mancera watched with joy as her children clutched the packages.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
The family also received a few large boxes of new clothing donated by Bealls Department Store, furniture from Habitat for Humanity and about $3,500 that they used in part to go shopping with firefighters at Wal-Mart for basic household items last weekend.
“Most people would buy a set of new plates. They would only buy three because they have three others at home,” said Shokee Berry, an assistant at Southern Manatee who aided the family. “They were very humble.”
The oldest child, 6-year-old Valentine Jr., made his way to a remote-control car. The girls, 3-year-old Jacqueline and 18-month-old Stephanie, sat on plastic cars. The youngest, 5-month-old Eric, rested in the arms of Smith, who had overseen operations as firefighters battled the Dec. 15 blaze.
Smith said the cause of the fire was not determined.
Common causes of household fires include space heaters, unattended candles and overpowered electrical outlets.
Fires around the holidays become more common with cooler temperatures.
“We don’t want to see this if we don’t have to,” he said.
Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.