AUGUSTA — St. Michael School seventh-graders celebrated Christmas early this year by giving nearly $2,500 to dozens of people left homeless by a pair of recent fires that leveled one building and caused significant damage to another.

The fundraiser, which was the students’ idea, was held Tuesday during the school’s Christmas concert. The event raised $2,475, which was donated Thursday to Rob Gordon, executive director of the United Way of Kennebec Valley.

“Your help will really go a long way,” Gordon told the students. “People will be very grateful for your support.”

The fires, which occurred Dec. 5 at 36 Northern Ave. and Dec. 9 at 20 State St., left 32 people without a home. Almost all the residents lost their possessions, including a number of pets, and several lost cars. Multiple city and state agencies have worked with nonprofits, including the United Way, to help resettle the displaced. Gordon said homes have been found for all but four people.

The United Way established a fundraising goal of $35,000. The students’ donation pushed the total to $38,000, which will be used to purchase essentials such as clothes, transportation and personal items, including glasses and even a set of false teeth.

“We have plenty of use for all of it,” Gordon said of the donations.

The Dec. 5 fire destroyed an 18-unit apartment building that was home to 27 people. The fire, which was reported around 2 a.m., caused minor injuries to seven of the 23 people who were home at the time. The building debris has since been hauled away.

Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the state fire marshal’s office, said Thursday that investigators still are trying to determine what caused the fire.

The Dec. 9 fire badly damaged a four-unit apartment that left five people homeless. Nobody was injured in the blaze, which was reported around 6 a.m. Investigators quickly determined the fire was sparked by an ill-placed space heater.

Augusta Code Enforcement Officer Rob Overton said he planned to meet this week with John Pedersen, of Gardiner, who owns the State Street building, to talk about whether the damaged building can be salvaged. Overton said the building is structurally unsound at this point.

“I imagine it will be torn down, but I haven’t heard that officially,” Overton said. “We’d prefer to see it repaired, but I don’t believe that’s going to be feasible.”

Gordon commended the students for their effort to help those who had lost everything.

“We can all imagine what it would be like to grab our coat in the middle of the night and nothing else,” he said. “Most didn’t have a lot to begin with. It’s especially hard for them to start over.”

Most victims did not have renter’s insurance, Gordon said.

“If you can possibly afford it, renter’s insurance is an important thing to have,” he said.

Raegan Hachey, 12, of Winthrop, said she and her classmates discussed the fires during the current-events portion of a social studies class and during a religion class. The children decided they wanted to do something to help.

Drew Dionne, a 12-year-old from Sidney, said the students were particularly motivated by the season.

“We wanted them to have a nice warm place during Christmas,” Dionne said.

“Christmas is about being with family and enjoying the season,” Hachey added.

St. Michael Principal Kevin Cullen said he was moved by the student-led effort and by others who offered to sell their Christmas toys in order to help those hurt by the fires.

“It almost made me cry,” he said. “It was humbling, to be honest. It reaffirmed my faith in kids and in the kindness of people.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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