EAST MACHIAS — When Wade and Angela Skidgel lost three family members in three days, their friends decided they had to do something.
“All we wanted to accomplish was to cocoon them with love and make them feel less alone in their grief,” said friend Sarah Heath Conklin of Machias.
Angela Skidgel’s grandmother, Yvonne Ames, died New Year’s Day. Angela was driving home Jan. 3 after having made funeral arrangements when her car collided with a tractor-trailer on Route 1 in Columbia. She survived the crash, but her son, Gavin, 14, and her grandfather, Darold Ames, were killed.
“I thought about how Angela Skidgel must feel,” said friend Sandi Grant Malagara of Whiting. “I wanted her to know that the community did not condemn her, that they knew it was an accident.”
The Skidgel family had already been struggling financially because of Yvonne’s medical bills, Malagara said. Angela had cared for Yvonne before her death. Yvonne and Darold raised Angela, who thought of them as parents.
On Jan. 5, Malagara opened her shop, Expressions Floral in Machias, and offered bows and balloons for people to show support for the Skidgels. The balloons and bows have been sold by donation, and all the proceeds go directly to the family.
“When I opened at 11 a.m. last Sunday morning my parking lot was full,” Malagara said. “The support was amazing. This is a wonderfully supportive community. People gave what they could and often more than they could afford.”
That day, Malagara raised about $1,000. Another $1,545 came in the following day. As of Jan. 11, the tally had topped $4,000.
The bows and balloons are blue and gold because Gavin’s favorite color was blue and he had a heart of gold, she said.
“I’ve heard so many testimonials from people coming in to get bows and balloons regarding his kindness,” she said. “That is another reason I am doing the bows and balloons. It gives people a chance to share their thoughts and memories about Gavin.”
Bows and balloons will be available at Expressions until Gavin’s memorial service, scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Elm Street School in East Machias.
Conklin and another friend, Margaret Frazier of Machias, organized a Celebration of Gavin set for 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, at Washington Academy in East Machias, where Gavin was a freshman. The benefit pizza supper is open to the public and will include a raffle, silent auction and a performance by Machias area musician Alan Cook.
Conklin said a scholarship in Gavin’s name also is being set up to help low-income Washington County kids pay for driver’s ed. Two accounts have been set up to help the Skidgels with expenses. Donations payable to the Skidgel Family Fund can be sent to Machias Savings Bank, Attn. Lani Smith, P.O. Box 318, Machias, ME 04654. Donations to help pay for fuel should be made payable to RH Foster and marked “Skidgel Family Fund.” They can be sent to the company at P.O. Box 366, Machias, ME 04654.
“The response from our small community and far beyond has been nothing short of overwhelming, but it’s the sort of empathy and camaraderie we’ve come to expect from our Downeast neighbors in troubled times,” Conklin said. “Working together to comfort this family has helped the community to begin to heal as well.”
The Skidgels asked Malagara to thank the community for its support.
“Wade said they were left wordless by the support of the community,” Malagara said. “He also said he thinks it is what is keeping them going. This is a very difficult time and seeing that the community cares has made a huge difference. They both really want everybody to know how much it has meant to them.”
Angela told Malagara Gavin was her “everything.”
Wade described Gavin as an angel who thought of others before himself.
“You know, angels can’t stay for long,” Wade told Malagara Jan. 11. “God needs them back to do other work.”