Brian and Connie Farquhar, who have adopted seven handicapped children, are accustomed to helping others.
When the couple from North East in Cecil County needed help themselves -- they were stranded this week in Orlando, Fla., after their 15-passenger van caught fire and exploded -- total strangers came through.
After a Rotary International member -- in Florida for a convention -- saw the family's story on a newscast, he was able to collect $20,000 in a few hours to pay for a new van.
"I started out in the morning, walking the halls in the convention, and within half an hour, I had pledges for the money," Rotarian Kenneth Erdman of Cheltenham, Pa., said today. He said the story of the Farquhars' misfortune the previous night had moved him.
"I sat on the bed and both my wife and I had tears in our eyes," Mr. Erdman said. "It seemed to me it was an impossibility for them on their own to figure out how to get their van back. . . . We were spending money for ourselves, why couldn't we spend a little money for somebody else, which is, after all, what we're all about?"
The Farquhars were in Florida for a dual purpose. First, they came to pick up their newest foster child, Brandon, who is a year old. They have adopted six other children over the past five years and have three biological children.
But they also wanted to take the rest of the family for a vacation to Disney World and Epcot Center in Orlando.
On Friday afternoon, Mrs. Farquhar stayed behind at the motel with five of the children who were not feeling well, while Mr. Farquhar took the other five for one last trip to Epcot Center before they returned to Maryland.
When they arrived at Epcot, they realized their van was on fire.
"As they drove into the parking lot and stopped the van, they saw flames coming from underneath it," Mrs. Farquhar said from Orlando.
"My husband, I don't know how, was able to get all the kids out of it. The youngest two that were there were both 5 years old. The older children got out as soon as they saw what was happening, but the little ones froze and were afraid to get out, and my husband had to pull them out."
Seconds later, the van exploded. Inside were oxygen tanks for three of the children who are severely disabled and a large liquid oxygen base unit that is used to fill the portable tanks, which caused several more explosions.
"It was an unbelievable fire," Mrs. Farquhar said. In addition to the van, the Farquhars lost about $10,000 worth of personal possessions, much of it medical equipment.
During the weekend, the Farquhars went to a junkyard to check their van, hoping to find something salvageable.
A junkyard worker called a TV station after hearing the story.
Still, the Farquhars were not prepared for the call from the Rotarians. "We were so exhausted and so worn out, and my husband says, 'Oh yeah, you're kidding.' And he said, 'No, I'm the president of Rotary International. This is no joke.'"
Yesterday, the Farquhars received the $20,000 check from President Rajendra Saboo.
"It just amazed us, $20,000 to us is a whole lot of money, and I couldn't imagine people coming forward with that kind of money for people they don't know," said Mrs. Farquhar.
Others have also helped. Mrs. Farquhar said a local medical supply company agreed to lend them some portable oxygen bottles. Without them, the severely disabled children would not be able to leave their rooms.
Meanwhile, the Farquhars are shopping for a van, but they are afraid they won't be able to find one for less than $23,000. If they can't make a deal in Florida, they will fly back to Maryland and look in this area. Their priority now is to get their children, several of whom are ill and need medical attention, home.
"We need to get back there and get these children checked out and get them well again," Mrs. Farquhar said. "We'll just be glad to hit northern soil. Cecil County never looked so good."