Special connection develops between St. Thomas Episcopal and Paradise, CA

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Friends move in and move away — more in Miami than in many other places — but we can keep in touch easily these days and reach out and care when something happens.

Mother Dee deMontmollin, a native Miamian who had been a nurse and licensed social worker, was ordained a priest at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Coral Gables in 2001 and served there for several years.

When she moved to North Carolina to lead a church, she left many friends behind. In early November, St. Thomas parishioners heard that Mother Dee’s niece, Valerie Caruso, a veterinarian in fire ravaged town of Paradise, CA, had lost her clinic to the wildfires and was housing her 11-member veterinary staff plus some animals. Members of St. Thomas Episcopal Church wanted to do something to help in a small way.

Paradise was a peaceful little town in the woods of Northern California until the day that the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, swept through town. Within two hours, 95 percent of the town was destroyed.

Dr. Valerie Caruso’s veterinary clinic was in full operation when fire came out of nowhere. She and her team — at work and dressed in scrubs — managed to escape and save the animals in the clinic. The homes of all her employees were destroyed. Dr. Caruso took her entire staff into her home in near-by Chico. Eventually they were able to get emergency housing in the Chico area for the staff and their families for the long months ahead.

A Walmart and a Target remained open in Chico. While the challenges for the veterinary staff families who had lost their homes and everything they owned were overwhelming, they could at least use gift cards to purchase some items for their children and themselves. Parishioners at St. Thomas quickly collected money to send gift cards in time for Christmas.

More than $3,000 worth of gift cards arrived for the Paradise veterinary staff on Dec. 16, which happened to be the anniversary of Mother Dee’s ordination to the priesthood at St. Thomas 17 years before.

Friends do come and go in Miami, but at St. Thomas Church in December, parishioners were able to reach across the country with a special connection of bringing just a little joy and relief in Paradise.


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