Won't Be Home For Christmas

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The home and possessions of Sandra and Larry Sedor were destroyed by California's wildfires. This cross is one of the only things to survive the flames. Sandra is an employee at Arrowhead Credit Union.

Many people might think Sandra Sedor "lost everything" when a wind-whipped wildfire roared through her street Oct. 25.

When that day dawned, Sedor and her husband, Larry, enjoyed an enviable homestead in the quiet neighborhood known as Del Rosa in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. On their half-acre of land, the Sedors had two houses-one built just two years ago by Larry for the two of them and their 8-year-old daughter, along with a one-bedroom guesthouse. Attached to the guesthouse was a shop where Larry conducted his welding business. Parked on the property were a 34-foot motorhome, a Chevrolet Suburban, a brand-new Volvo V70, Larry's work truck, and a Bayliner boat and trailer.

The day that started with all the fruits of an American success story finished with everything but the Volvo and worktruck reduced to ashes.

To make matters worse, the Sedors were underinsured. They received enough money to pay off the remainder of the motorhome loan, but nowhere near enough to replace it. The boat was paid off, but had no insurance when it wasn't in water. With Larry's welding equipment gone, and no insurance on the shop or the business, he has no way of generating income.

Yet despite all these hardships, Sandra has two things going for her that many Southern California fire victims do not: her faith-based positive attitude and the fact she works for a credit union. She doesn't believe she lost everything.

"There is only one thing standing on our property: an eight-foot wooden cross my husband built last year as a Christmas decoration," she said. "People come to our street just to look at the cross, and Ted Koppel and Peter Jennings of ABC News did live remotes from our property. The cross is a reminder that we are very blessed to not be planning a funeral. The things that burned are material things, and we can get them back."

Norton CU Helps, Also

"Arrowhead Credit Union has been instrumental in helping our family get through this," she continued. "Everyone there has given us great support."

Sedor is the coordinator for the credit union's construction department. She handles everything from remodeling existing branches to construction of new branches. Within days of the fire, her department took up a collection for her family. Upper management has pitched in, as well.

"[Arrowhead Credit Union CEO] Larry Sharp and the members of the board put $3,000 in my checking account and said not to worry about paying it back. I have been given time off to try to take care of things without losing sick or vacation time."

"My friends can't believe how much my employer is doing for me," she added.

Sedor said her co-workers have come to her property on several weekends to help sift through the rubble looking for anything that might have survived the flames. These people showed up without being asked, and brought donuts and drinks for each other.

Between Sedor's co-workers at Arrowhead CU, her church, and her daughter's private school, donations to the family have been "unbelievable," she said. Donated items included a barbecue to cook meals on, clothes for each person, and stuffed animals for her daughter. Officials at her daughter's school said not to worry about paying the tuition until next year.

The family also received a $1,000 grant from the California CU League's fire relief fund.

"We have been very blessed. The fire was a disaster, but it also made us realize there is a lot of love here," she said. "Everyone has been so supportive, we want to repay all of them, even though we know we can't. Once we get back on our feet, we will do whatever we can to support the Red Cross and the United Way and other organizations that help people during times like these."

The damage to the property was so complete that the clean up continues five weeks later. Sedor said rebuilding the home will have to wait because the family is trying to gather enough money to buy new welding equipment so Larry can resume his business.

The Sedors are using the money their homeowner's insurance pays for rental property towards a new motorhome so they have a place to live.

"The bills don't stop, whether or not you have income," she said. "Most creditors have been understanding. All the bills, all our papers were in the house, so they waived the late fees-but they still expect a payment."

Norton CU Helps, Also

Before Sedor worked at Arrowhead CU, she was a member of Norton Credit Union. She has several accounts there, including the loan on the motorhome, a home equity line of credit and a Visa card. After the fire, Sedor called Norton and was told the loans would have no late fees, with no payment due until March.

"Credit unions really are the way to go," declared Sedor. "I don't see banks doing that."

Sedor's new motorhome loan is with Arrowhead CU, and requires no payment for the first three months.

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