Outpouring of support for Nanaimo family that hit rock bottom

By Ian Holmes
January 3, 2017 - 6:47pm

NANAIMO — A rural Nanaimo couple is in disbelief after an outpouring of community support, helping to rebuild their lives following a nightmarish few months.

Paul Webber and Dawn Coburn had several personal family tragedies, leading to severe emotional and financial hardships, which all came to a head on the morning of New Year's day.

The Benson View Road resident's only source of power, a generator in a shed near their home, exploded in a fire.

“I just had enough, I gave up. I saw the generator on fire and it was doom and gloom,” said Webber. “I couldn't take it anymore, I had a breakdown.”

The East Wellington Fire Department responded, including chief Jack Van Doorn. He says Webber and Coburn were essentially homeless with a destroyed generator; unable to run water or flush their toilets without a power source.

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“It is a big deal when you live in a rural situation and you have no power,” said Van Doorn. “They were pretty much homeless at that point, even though their home stands well, it was unaffected by the fire, they can't inhabit it.”

Coburn says they've lived comfortably at the home for the past five years, but says things started to spiral downhill when they suffered six deaths in the immediate family over the past three months. She says their successful small business suffered and money started drying up.

It was clear to Van Doorn that the couple needed immediate help and he knew where to turn.

“The biggest thing that we've got in our department is guys with huge hearts,” he said. “When the need was seen to help somebody, everybody started coming up to the plate to help in any way they can.”

Van Doorn says text messages went out to the department's volunteer firefighters, who responded in droves. There were numerous donations, including firewood and hay for the couple's two horses, which had been on the verge of being sold.

“It's not like they've brought this onto themselves, this is circumstances where this is the way it's gone,” said Van Doorn. “We all as humans have to get to the point where we have to help each other.”

He says word spread to more people, leading to immediate help from dozens, including a man who used a backhoe to clear the couple's icy and snowy driveway. Van Doorn says the man, who wished to remain anonymous, donated $1,000.

Webber says watching people chipping to help in any way they could completely changed their outlook.

“All of a sudden where there was no hope, there was hope, there was a light,” he said.

The couple are staying in a temporary hotel courtesy of the Canadian Red Cross and hope to return to their home later this week. They are in the process of getting their power back on as well.

An emotional Coburn told NanaimoNewsNOW that she'll never forget how the outpouring of community support makes her feel.

“It was a miracle that happened,” she said. “It totally changed our outlook...we're getting back on our feet to the life we had before.”

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