The details stirred a community. Pulling a shirt over his face to shield it from smoke, a father frantically rushed into and out of his family’s burning home, again and again, retrieving all but a 4-year-old daughter who had taken shelter under an upstairs bed.
Almost immediately after news broke of the Feb. 8 blaze at the Payne-Phalen neighborhood home of Peter Yang’s family in St. Paul, East Side residents began offering to help the family heal from the loss of their home and little Ntshialiag “Chialia” Yang.
Almost four months later, the Yangs are still on the community’s mind. On Saturday, a group dubbing itself “Team East Side” coordinated a fundraiser at Tin Cup in St. Paul, the latest effort to help the family enter the next stage of rebuilding.
At first, food, clothing and winter apparel were among the family’s needs. A subsequent online drive raised nearly $35,000, but much of that went toward Ntshialiag’s funeral.
“I don’t even know if a million dollars will make this family whole,” said Heather Guggisberg, a St. Paul resident who has been at the forefront of relief efforts for the family.
Guggisberg said the family is living in a temporary home in St. Paul, using rented furniture while their original home is being rebuilt. Calling $5,000 a successful fundraiser, Guggisberg said the money raised Saturday will likely need to be used for furniture and appliances. The Modern Woodmen of America pledged to match donations up to $2,500, and tickets to Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Twins seats behind home plate were auctioned to raise more funds.
Peter Yang’s family moved to Minnesota from Laos in the 1980s. He has 11 daughters and seven sons, including those he has adopted. Guggisberg called Yang a hero for his actions when his home caught fire in February. But when they talk, she said, he is wracked with guilt.
“He saved everybody else but he couldn’t save his baby,” Guggisberg said.
Yang’s mother also died recently, Guggisberg said.
Another resident, Jeremy Sartain, became involved after browsing a St. Paul East Side Facebook group. When he clicked the profile of a Yang family cousin, Sartain discovered that she was once a student of his at St. Paul College.
“That gave me some extra inspiration,” said Sartain, who soon began using his van to haul donated goods over to the family.
Barb Mueller, who works at the food shelf at Merrick Community Center, met Guggisberg when she began picking up donated food for the family at the center’s drop-off site. Months later, the two were among those preparing into the wee hours of the morning before Saturday’s fundraiser.
“I’ll do anything for this side of town,” Mueller said.