Lehigh staff members receive community support after house fire


Members of the Lehigh community donated funds, resources and support after two staff members lost their duplex in a fire.

Pride Center director Chelsea Fullerton and OFSA assistant director Carter Gilbert’s duplex caught fire on their neighbors’ side earlier this month. Seven fire trucks from three different counties were called to the scene.

“Our neighbors had a cooking fire that completely destroyed their home (attached to ours),” Fullerton said. “The smoke, soot and water damage was pretty extensive. We lost a lot of our possessions.”

Chelsea Fullerton, director of the Pride Center (Courtesy of the Lehigh University website)

After finding out about the fire, members of the Lehigh community mobilized to provide support for Fullerton and Gilbert.

“I was overwhelmed right away by the community response,” Fullerton said. “The fire happened on a Monday, and by Tuesday we had folks offering to help and making sure we had our basic necessities.”

Pride Center assistant director Scott Burden said it was encouraging to see how quickly the community was willing to support people experiencing loss. By the following day, Burden said people had contacted him asking what they could do to help.

Burden and Sarah Thompson, the Office of Residence Life assistant director, sent out an email asking people to support in any way they could. Burden and Thompson then went to Target to get essential items for Fullerton and Gilbert.

“(Thompson) and I agreed to purchase a $500 gift card,” Burden said. “We were confident we would be able to raise that $500.”

Carter Gilbert, assistant director of Leadership Development (Courtesy of Lehigh University website)

Over the next two weeks, almost $2,000 was raised for Fullerton and Gilbert. The donations ranged from cash to gift cards, including one for Chewy so they could replace their two dogs’ toys.

Burden said members of Greek Emerging Leaders volunteered to go back to the house to inventory everything that remained after the fire. The items needed to be accounted for for insurance purposes.

Burden and Women’s Center director Rita Jones organized a meal plan for Fullerton and Gilbert while they looked for new housing. Burden said they provided breakfast, lunch and dinner for the two weeks Fullerton and Gilbert spent living in a hotel.

“In addition to the monetary stuff, people were donating their time,” Burden said.

Andrea Barker, the Student Activities assistant director, is the chairperson for the faculty and staff pride network. She said they typically have happy hours once or twice a semester at Broadway Social, so she made sure Fullerton and Gilbert were in attendance to witness the community response.

“We invited them more so as guests of honor so they were able to be surrounded by community and know that people cared about them,” Barker said.

Barker said she made a flyer asking for donations of cash or any items Fullerton and Gilbert said they were immediately in need of. Barker said one of the best donations they received were dog treats. Although everyone was eager to help Fullerton and Gilbert, Barker said it’s important to remember the rest of their family.

Fullerton said while it wasn’t immediately clear how many possessions were ruined, the community support became immediately clear.

“It felt like every single day we found out about new really wonderful and kind things people were doing to make sure we were taken care of,” Fullerton said.

Fullerton said she and GIlbert have found a new home and will be returning to a normal lifestyle. “We absolutely could not have done everything we did, as quickly as we did it, without the help we received,” she said.

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