TRAVERSE CITY — Dale McMahan and his family lost nearly everything in a March house fire. The only belongings he, his wife and four children had left were a pole barn and the pajamas on their backs.
“We didn’t even have our shoes,” McMahan said.
McMahan said he’s since been touched by an outpouring of love and support from his co-workers at Ponderosa Steak House in Traverse City. The restaurant’s hourly wait staff, buffet attendants, part-time workers and fellow cooks rallied and raised more than $2,100 to help the McMahan family start the lengthy, back-on-their feet journey.
“It brought me to tears,” McMahan said. “I can’t even begin to explain how it made me feel.”`
The March 22 fire at the family home in rural Kalkaska County nearly took far more than personal belongings. The fire broke out at 3:30 a.m. as McMahan and his wife slept. McMahan’s two oldest children smelled smoke and alerted their parents, allowing the McMahans to save their youngest, ages 3 and 2.
“My oldest said, ‘Dad, the house is full of smoke,’” McMahan said. “I got the babies out immediately and got down to the neighbors ... we had smoke detectors but we never heard them or anything.”
The house was destroyed. The family did not have homeowner insurance.
“I did not have enough money,” McMahan said. “It’s been a hard time for us since the recession. I worked for a builder who packed up and went to North Carolina.”
A phone call to work that morning let his co-workers know McMahan wouldn’t be in for his shift as a day cook. The call prompted an immediate response from his co-workers, who went to work doing what they could to help out the family. Donna Maxwell, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, David, said restaurant staffers deserve all the credit for initiating fundraising.
“‘Let’s all get together and do this,’” Maxwell said of the employees’ attitudes.
The Maxwells pledged to match all donations raised by employees. Servers donated out of their own pockets and closets, and produced cash and clothes. Servers held a benefit night for the McMahan family this month that offered a chance for restaurant guests to donate.
Servers donated their tips. Manager Mandi Lester said one 18-year-old employee donated $200 from her check.
“It was awesome,” Lester said of the response.
McMahan said the kindness gives his family hope and he plans to build a new home at the site of the old one.
“I know how to lay block,” he said. “I’m going to get the basement in and then start framing it,” McMahan said. “The water is out there and so is the electric.”