BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – On Oct. 18, a Berkeley Heights family lost everything due to a fire in their rented home. Less than two weeks later, the family is settled into a home, with new clothes, food in the pantry, school supplies and a deep appreciation for the people of Berkeley Heights.
Louis, Margo and their children David and Jose Morales were sound asleep when their dog, Gary, began barking as a fire swept through their Putnam Avenue home. Everyone in the family escaped from the fire, including Gary, their dog, but they literally lost everything.
Janet and Mike Magliacano, who lived directly behind the Morales’ Putnam Avenue home, woke up to the smell of smoke and sound of fire engines. During a phone interview, Janet said her husband threw on his clothes and went out, while she stayed home with her two children – Olivia and Christian – who are friends with the Morales children.
Janet, who works at Mary Kay McMillan Early Childhood Center, said she first met the Morales family when they moved in about eight years ago. The children became friends and Olivia and Jose, who both attend Governor Livingston High School, ride the bus together. Christian and David both attend Columbia Middle School, and play together. Dad, Louis, works at Barth’s Market in New Providence and mom, Margo, works at Skin Deep Salon & Spa. The two families are close, so after the fire, she knew she had to help them.
What happened next is something that only seems to happen in fairy tales, but it happened right here, in Berkeley Heights.
Janet said when the fire was extinguished, her husband brought the Morales family to their home. “They were very upset. They only had the clothes on their back,” she said. The question was, how best to help the family, so she reached out to friends and co-workers, then posted about the fire on Facebook and let everyone know what the family needed.
The family was put up in a hotel, gratis, thanks to the generosity of a donor, Janet said.
Other donations began to pour in – gift cards for food and other types of goods, clothes, shoes and envelopes of cash. One person donated two new backpacks, filled with school supplies for the boys.
Laurie Tussel Holsten a Realtor with REMax, Summit, reached out. She had a house for rent in Berkeley Heights – not just a house, but one that was fully furnished … right down to sheets and towels, and a kitchen with dishes, glasses and more. The homeowner had moved to Germany, Holsten said. It took a number of phone calls, the obligatory background check, and approval from the woman’s son who lives on the west coast, but by this past weekend, a long-term rental agreement was signed and the family moved in. There was only one stipulation, they have to shovel the snow and mow the grass, said Janet.
Janet said Skin Deep Salon & Spa stepped up, too, and started a Go Fund Me page which raised $9,000 for the family.
Susan Barbaglia, owner of Skin Deep Salon & Spa, and the Skin Deep team also collected food, clothing, gift cards and even some furniture. With the cash donations, Skin Deep raised more than $11,000.
The Police Department also reached out and donated $500 in gift cards, she said.
This outpouring of concern and help “warmed my heart,” Janet said.
This is the second time staff members from Mary Kay had stepped up and helped a family in need, she said. The amazing thing was many people who dropped off gift cards or cash had never met the Morales family.
“One man left a note with a donation in their mailbox which said that he and his family had lost everything in a fire in another town and ‘No one did this for us,’” said Janet. He also wrote, "'I think we found the right spot,' when he and his family settled in Berkeley Heights. I just can’t say enough about the community … Everybody is so giving,” Janet said.
Margo and her family sent a thank you note to her Skin Deep Family & Friends, that reads, in part, “We are humbled by everything you have done for us … Our lives were turned upside down overnight … As soon as Susan & the Skin Deep Family found out, they immediately surrounded us with love, strength, and overwhelming support.”