Church raises $10,000 to replace trailer that burned Christmas Eve

Jeff Bobo • Dec 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Thanks to the generosity of parishioners from Christ Fellowship Church in Kingsport, as well as others, Christmas Eve fire victims Etta Sensabaugh and her two small granddaughters will be living in an almost new mobile home within the next couple of weeks.

Last Monday church members gave $4,500 during an evening Christmas Eve service after hearing about the fire that destroyed Sensabaugh’s trailer early that morning.

In light of that overwhelming response Christ Fellowship pastor Greg DePriest asked members during Sunday’s morning service to give again toward helping Sensabaugh. Although the exact tally wasn’t in as of Sunday night, DePriest estimated the total at around $10,000.

That will be enough to purchase a 16-foot-wide 2003 model mobile home for Sensabaugh to replace the 1974 model home that burned early Christmas Eve morning.

DePriest said a couple from Colonial Heights had the 2003 mobile home for sale for $16,000, but agreed to lower the price to $9,000 to assist the church in providing Sensabaugh and the two granddaughters she’s raising ages 2 and 4 with a new home. The new trailer is currently in Weber City.

Leftover funds will be used to for utility hookups and other incidental costs to move the trailer to a new location in Blountville where Sensabaugh can live near her son Tony Johnson.

“(Saturday) they took Etta to see it in Weber City, and she just cried,” DePriest said. “It’s in excellent condition. We’re buying that mobile home for her, and we had a heating and cooling guy from Church Hill who said he would hook up the heating and air. We’re going to set her up with furniture — a couple who are both doctors had an extra washer and dryer for her, and a person who has a mobile home moving business has offered to move it for us.

“She’s going to live near her son in Blountville where he can watch over her better.”

Sensabaugh first came to the attention of Times-News readers in November when she was profiled as a recipient of the Times-News Rescue Fund. Readers were touched by the story of the 54-year-old disabled widow raising her two small granddaughters on a meager fixed income in a dilapidated mobile home in Church Hill.

People wanted to help and offered donations specifically for Sensabaugh such as cash, clothing, toys and other gifts.

Around 1 a.m. Christmas Eve morning, however, an electrical fire destroyed Sensabaugh’s trailer, leaving her and the girls homeless.

One couple who had been touched by Sensabaugh’s story was Mike and Deb Salaita of Church Hill. The couple went to visit Sensabaugh on Christmas Eve and drop off some gifts only to find the home had been reduced to smoldering rubble.

That evening they shared the story with their pastor, DePriest, which set off the chain of events leading to the $10,000 in donations for the new trailer.

Since the fire the Salaitas have spearheaded the effort to find Sensabaugh a new home. On Wednesday they plan to present a check to the owners for the purchase of the new mobile home.

“This has been a real blessing to be a part of this, and it’s given everybody a lot of hope,” Salaita said Sunday. “After we showed her the trailer (Saturday) her son Tony called and told us, ‘I just want you to know she cried all the way home, so happy and tears of joy.’ This has been a great opportunity for my family and my children to see how to be a blessing to others and the hope that this can give someone.”

Salaita added, “The day before all this happened my wife and I were talking about how we wished we were in a position to put Etta in a better home because that 1974 trailer — you could feel the wind blowing through it. Then 24 hours later it burned down, and here we are putting her in a new trailer a week later. That to me is just God working in all of our lives — hope and faith — it’s just really amazing.”

It will take a couple of weeks to acquire the permits needed to transport the mobile home across the state line from Weber City to Blountville. Holston Army Ammunition Plant firefighters who built Sensabaugh a new porch prior to the fire have offered to help with the labor to move the new mobile home.

Sensabaugh has a birthday on Jan. 29, and the Salaitas hope to host a house warming party for her at the church around then, although the exact time has yet to be set.

The response of people calling to help Sensabaugh was greater than anyone anticipated, and a lot of the same things were offered by multiple people. That has inspired Salaita to begin discussions with the church about establishing a “database” of items that can be accepted to help other people in similar situations.

“It’s probably going to be something we get into because there’s not a whole lot we can do as individuals, but when we get everyone behind something like this we’re seeing with Etta what the results can be,” Salaita said. “It’s an additional blessing and something that could take this ministry to a whole new level.”

Sensabaugh and the girls are currently staying in a vacant mobile home on Silver Lake Road in Church Hill in the same park where they had lived prior to the fire.

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