Living on donated food, her husband's business in collapse and sick with a cold, Jan Hall had to light a fire to keep warm Monday afternoon. While she was shivering in front of the fireplace, her home went up in the flames.
It was the final blow for Jan and Scott Hall, newlyweds struggling to survive the recession. Although they escaped harm, the couple lost their last possessions in the blaze, which guttedthe $130,000 town house they were renting in Crofton.
Their 6-year-old daughters, Ashley Widdowson and Jessi Hall, had no chance to rescue any clothes or toys from the burning home. Only acouch and dining room table were salvaged from the rubble.
"Now we having nothing left," Scott Hall said in a shaking voice yesterday."Everything kept going wrong, and then this happens. We don't own nothing now, man."
But the shell-shocked 30-year-old, who earned a comfortable living until his exterior house-cleaning service founderedlast summer, hasn't lost his faith. Although he has suffered a bitter divorce and the demise of his business, Hall said his belief in God's grace remains unshaken.
"I know this sounds crazy, but I believe God allowed this to happen to show he loves me," said Hall, who is active in the Antioch Apostolic Church in Arnold.
He was riding high in the 1980s, earning thousands of dollars by pressure-washing houses in the new developments that spread across Anne Arundel County. He lived in an expensive house in Glen Burnie, drove a new Oldsmobile,owned two vans and a truck, and spent summer weekends at a condominium he bought in Ocean City.
Last June, tired from working long hours and looking for solace after his divorce, Hall took his daughter on a church retreat. When he came back from the camp in Pennsylvania, he found business had abruptly slowed to a trickle. Within months, hewas in debt.
"It hit me hard," Hall recalled. "I didn't know whatwas going on, so I kept going out and giving out fliers. But nobody wanted their houses cleaned anymore, and I started to panic."
Mounting bills forced him to sell off his house and most of his equipment. As the economy continued to slump, competition for the few contracts still around became fierce.
By the time his truck's engine brokedown last month, Hall was desperate. He had deposited more than 1,000 fliers in mailboxes but received no response. His wife, who cleanedhome interiors until she was hurt in a car crash in March, could notfind a job.
The Halls eventually called Murlean McDaniel, a volunteer with the Crofton Christian Caring Council, a coalition of six churches in the Crofton area, for help. McDaniel brought over bags of food and hooked the family up with the county food bank.
A fellow parishioner, Degn E. Scherer, gave Scott a job. Scherer, who owns a market in Jessup, hired Scott as a clerk and promised to put him through management training. Jan Hall found a part-time job caring for children at the parish.
Although neither job paid enough to cover morethan rent and food, the Halls thought they were turning the corner. But just when life began to improve, they lost their home.
"Where we were before this happened, we would have made it," Scott Hall said. "I don't know now."
The family is staying with the Scherers until they can pull together enough money to rent another place. The Red Cross donated $300 to buy the two girls some clothes. Church groups have collected another $200 to tide the Halls over, McDaniel said.
"I can't believe so many things can happen to one family," she said. "It's terrible."