Oliver: Outpouring for fire victims overwhelming

When I drove past what used to be the Windy City Wings building at the corner of Green Street and Route 120 in McHenry on Friday morning, I could hardly believe my eyes.

I knew there had been a fire the night before, but this didn’t look like the charred remnants of a blaze. This was a just a big pile of lumber, as if the building had been blown down.

Fire officials say a downed power line fell onto the front of the building, and the high winds at the time fanned the flames.

That building had been around for a long time, having been home to the China Light restaurant for many years.

The building even housed an opera house in the early 1900s, according to the McHenry County Historical Society.

So a piece of history is now gone.

Sadder still is the loss for all those connected to the building, from the families who lived in the five apartments upstairs to the owner of the sports bar whose livelihood is gone and the employees who now are without jobs.

I was relieved when I learned that there would be a collection for the displaced families Saturday morning at Chauncey H. Duker School. Three of the families had students in District 15 schools.

I had a few items to contribute, so I walked over to the school during the last hour of the collection.

I was unprepared for what I found there.

Minivans and other cars lined Kane Avenue and filled the looped driveway leading to the school’s entrance.

There were so many vehicles that I mistakenly thought there must be some other activity going on. This couldn’t all be for the donation drive, could it?

A steady stream of people were heading to the door, most carrying bags. One mother and child even had a large dollhouse.

Amazement set in as I entered Duker’s gym.

Everywhere I looked, there were piles and piles of donations. Bags upon bags upon boxes of donations of clothing and toys.

The outpouring was overwhelming even for organizers.

“I’m just shaking,” organizer Kelly Baehne told reporter Cyndi Wyss for a story that was published Sunday. “This is just so awesome.”

So many donations poured in that now organizers could use help to sort and pack the collected items. Volunteers are needed at 10 a.m. today at the school, 3711 Kane Ave.

Proceeds not only will help the three District 15 families, but some will go to employees of Windy City Wings and the residents of the two other apartments who also were displaced.

Items also will help other District 15 families in need and then other nonprofit groups.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked across that gym.

It was just an awe-inspiring demonstration of the power of community and the generosity of my fellow McHenry residents.

Maybe the holidays had something to do with it, but I’d like to think that McHenry would come through no matter what the season.

Frank Capra would have been proud. I know I am.

Way to go, McHenry.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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