ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In a city where homelessness is at the forefront of chronic issues, it takes a special community to see through the stigma and offer help. That’s just what happened in Eagle River, where a homeless, widowed mother and her two sons are now staying.
Matt Marble (left), Sarah Marble and Kyle Sherman stand outside their new temporary home at Beach Lake.
Sarah Marble and her son Matt were on one of their many trips into Anchorage from Eklutna Lake, where they had made a campsite into a home. Sarah was applying for jobs and affordable housing, and Matt was meeting with his Air Force recruiter.
When they got back, they found their campsite had been ransacked.
They lost everything from basic survival gear, to priceless family artifacts: photos of Sarah's daughter, and a hard drive filled with memories of her late husband.
Sarah took to Facebook to caution people about camping at Eklutna. What came next was an outpouring of support the family says is unlike anything they've ever seen.
Sarah and Kyle knew they wanted a change. They found little appeal in the lower 48, so they aimed a little farther north.
"We thought, we're done with Oregon," Sarah said. "Ever since birth, I have always been in love with the idea of Alaska."
They planned to use the security deposit from their rental in Oregon to relocate once they got to Anchorage. They got as far as Montana, but their tires were in no condition for the trip up the Alcan.
"We went to the tire shop and they said, ‘You are not leaving our parking lot,’” Sarah said. “So there went the thousand dollars for new tires. And also, our way to get into a new home when we got here."
Fast forward, they make it to Anchorage, their campsite is looted. They have no way to cook food, no money for a rental deposit -- and nowhere to turn.
So, Sarah filed a police report. The detective took an interest in the family's situation, and contacted Eagle River Parks and Recreation to open up a donations bin in their office.
"This officer, who had also met Sarah and her sons, brought them in and introduced them to us,” Eagle River Parks and Recreation’s Karen Richards said. “So, at that point, when we were discussing their story and their situation, and what could possibly the community do to gather and help support if we could…"
That’s when, Richards says, they couldn't abide letting this family stay outside as winter approaches. So, the staff pooled money together to rent a small cabin at Beach Lake. Small, but to the three newcomers, a warm place to lay their heads.
Sarah asked her two sons how they felt about the kindness they received. “In disbelief,” Kyle said. “At first, I didn't believe her. I thought she was pranking us. But when I found out it was real, I was really excited.” And Matt added, “Yeah, when she handed me the keys, I was beyond thankful."
This small gesture started a snowballing effect. Everyone wanted to support and welcome this new Alaskan family. Trust Worthy Hardware in Eagle River being one of the first, opening up donations at their store.
“Next thing you know, all the community came in, we started getting gift cards, and gas money, and whatever they could do to help her out and her family," Trust Worthy Hardware co-owner Justin Phillips said.
In two days, the store raised over $300. Co-owner Gordy Banfield says it’s unlike Alaskans to give hand-outs, but this is a hand-up for a family he knows will appreciate and put it to good use.
“She and her sons came in and they're real nice people,” Banfield said. “And it sounds like they're just guys like us, 20 years ago, we were just down and out and needed someone to give us that little hand-up. Not much, just a little bit. And it seems to be helping out. They were about crying when they came in. They couldn't believe it."
Matt says the words “thank you” are thrown around lightly, and no matter how many times they can say it, it won’t live up to the kindness they have received. He says he hopes one day his family can give back to the community that picked them up when they were down.
“The scenery is not the only beautiful thing about Alaska,” Kyle said. “It's the people."
“It’s overwhelming,” Sarah said. “I have a hard time wrapping my head around the scope. But it’s something I’m eternally grateful for, and in love with every single person here.”
There is also a GoFundMe page set up for the family. It has raised over $1,000 since Monday.
Sarah says they have already received offers for extended stays at people's homes, until they get back on their feet.