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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Nov 05, 2020

7-Year-Old Raises Money for Family That Lost Everything in House Fire

By Melissa Acquaviva

All photos courtesy: Lydia M. and Family

Sometimes it’s the littlest people and smallest gestures that make the biggest impressions on those on the receiving end of generosity.

When 7-year-old Serena, from Middletown, heard of a local family’s tragic house fire, she felt the need to help. She had recently begun making face mask holders for her friends and neighbors with young children who had been losing their masks. She said she thought this might be a great opportunity to help the family, not with masks – but with fundraising.

On Oct. 3, the unthinkable happened to the McCarthy family, also of Middletown. They had lost their family home and all their belongings in a tragic house fire. The Nut Swamp Elementary school second grader, who lives only a mile from the McCarthys, did not know the family – but knew she wanted to help them.

“I wasn’t selling my mask holders originally, but then I heard about the fire and wanted to make more but sell them this time so I can help the family who had the fire buy a new house,” Serena said. And she did exactly that.

With help from her mom, Lydia, they posted an outreach on Facebook to sell the masks, with all proceeds going to the McCarthy Family. Within minutes, two orders were requested.

“It made me feel so proud of myself,” Serena said. “I made those right away.”

The post took on a life of its own, and Serena enlisted the help of her mom and little sister, Marabelle, to fulfill the orders. Serena explained that although the cost for one holder was $2, many neighbors and friends purchased above asking price to help with the fundraising.

In the end, Serena made more than 160 mask holders and raised more than $450 for the McCarthy family.

“My heart just melted when I heard about what Serena was doing for us,” homeowner Tara McCarthy explained. “When I asked Serena why she did what she did for us, complete strangers, she said she heard the fire trucks’ sirens and asked her mom what was going on. When she found out a house was on fire, she just knew she wanted to do something to help ‘the family’ and so she began making mask necklaces to help raise money for us. This act of kindness from such a young girl brought me to tears, and I wanted to share her story. I think she is an amazing young lady who has already, at such a young age, learned the value in helping others. I hope doing this has lifted her up as well, knowing how much she’s helped us and how much it means to us.”

Serena with Tara and Ryan McCarthy

The McCarthys, Serena and her sister, Marabelle

McCarthy and her son Ryan, 12, met Serena for the first time on Nov. 4 when Serena presented homemade cards and the $450 to the McCarthy family.

“When we got together with the mom and her son to give them the money and card, it made me feel happy because I was able to help them,” Serena said. “I like to help, and I hope to do more things like this.”

McCarthy was overwhelmed by Serena’s kindness and thoughtfulness, saying, “I was in awe of the fact that such a young girl could have a heart so big.”

The community as a whole has come together in support of the McCarthys, something Tara could have never imagined.

“We cannot begin to thank everyone and let them know how much it means to us and how much we appreciate their donations – clothing, money, gift cards, equipment,” Jimmy, Tara’s husband, said. The McCarthys’ oldest son, James, is a sophomore at Middletown High School South, and the younger son is a sixth grader at Thompson Middle School. Both of the boys’ schools quickly rallied to get them Chromebooks and sports equipment lost so they were able to resume “normal” life as much as possible.

Additionally, Nut Swamp Elementary School, Middletown High School North and Red Bank Catholic also made generous donations. The McCarthy boys, who are heavily involved in local sports, also received donations from their respective coaches and teammates.

“We feel very lucky that we were all able to get out of the house safely and can now go through this process together as a family,” Tara said. “The outpouring of love and support from everybody has been tremendous.”

Serena and her family are new to the area, having moved from Hoboken a little more than a year ago.

“There were always opportunities to help each other out in Hoboken,” Lydia explained. “We hope to be able to continue doing that here.”