WILSON N.Y. (WIVB) – Businesses across Western New York are coming together to help a local family that lost everything in a house fire last week. That fire sent a father and son to area hospitals, where they continue to recover.
Jacob Wankasky owns The Old Chapel Antique and Artisan Market in North Tonawanda. His cousin, Jeanette Whitmore’s home on Harbor street in Wilson, burned down last Wednesday.
“When we got the news Thursday on what happened at my cousins Jeanette’s house, obviously right away we thought, how can we help,” Wankasky said.
Jeanette, her husband Will, and their 5 year-old son Wesley all managed to escape the fire, but Will and Wesley have been in the hospital ever since recovering.
“Obviously our main concern is with her family right now, the health of her husband,” Wankasky said. “He’s a hero, he ran through flames to save his son, and we’re forever grateful for him for that.”
Wankasky says this has been hard on the family, and almost everything they had was destroyed. That’s why his business is one of a handful of places collecting donations for the family. He says people have been stopping by his store dropping off money, clothing and household items to give to the Whitmores.
“Just one after another just coming forward getting involved and helping to raise money for the family,” he said. “Obviously it’s been such a blessing to them that when they get out of the hospital that they’re going to have somewhere to go and items to live with.”
Jennifer and Michael Di Pasquale, who own 3 Sisters Garlic in Lockport have also been collecting donations. From money and dog food, to pillows and blankets, they’ve been collecting it all.
The owners say they wanted to help the family because their son went to school with Wesley, who is currently at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester recovering from burns.
“We’re Buffalonians, that’s what you do. That’s not even a question. You just do it. Someone would do it for you. That’s how we feel about the whole thing, and having a son that same age is real, it hits home,” Michael said.
A GoFundMe set up for the family has raised more than $70,000.
The family released a statement to News 4 saying:
“I first want to start off by saying thank you for the overwhelming amount of support we have received from our Wilson community as well all others who came together to help us in such a difficult time. There is no amount of words to express our gratefulness. My family is still in disbelief at the amount dedication of all of the local businesses that have come together to help our family in one way or another. We truly are so thankful and blessed to be apart of this community. They have done and continue to do so much for us. They are giving us a chance to get back on our feet and be with our family instead of worrying about what would be next. We are so thankful for what everyone has done and we are so grateful that we have everyone by our sides this entire journey. My little brother and step-dad are improving more and more each day, please keep praying for them as they heal. Thank you again to everybody who has thought about my family and helped us out in anyway. It truly means the world to us!”Julianna Whitmore, daughter
Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.