Yoder Family Benefit Draws Widespread Support

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TOWANDA -- When Mary Wilcox learned about the fatal fire at John and Amber Yoder's home that destroyed their possessions and killed their two-year-old son J.T. she started planning a benefit.

"I was honestly first expecting a small spaghetti dinner at the Towanda Leigon."

Volunteers began coming forward.

They included Helena Landmesser who happens to be John Yoder's ex-wife, and mother to two of his children, Elija, 10, and Saige, 12.

When asked about the night of the fire, she said, "Thank God they were not there. I mean that's how I found out. I got a call that said where's your kids? They said that John's house is on fire."

On Sunday their community came through, as hundreds of people filled the gym at Towanda Elementary School, all hoping to help the Yoders.

Sven Thomason of Towanda Township says, "I would do anything I could really, let them live in my house if I had to."

Once the Yoder family's story got out on Facebook the response grew beyond Mary and Helena's wildest expectations. Donations started being collected in communities across Bradford County, then in Wilkes-Barre, and the Southern Tier of New York State.

Wilcox says, "I think when it started to get out of Bradford County that's when I realized it's a lot bigger than anyone thought."

Lanmesser added that donations were sent from Texas and that the benefit made the newspapers in Erie, Pennsylvania where her brother lives.

The benefit included a chilli and hot dog lunch, as well as face painting, and a bake sale.

"I can't even fathom why so many people have come forward, I am just thankful they did," said Landmesser.

"What it really says is that the community is a good community. It's helping them out a lot, but it's showing there really is good in people," said Wilcox.