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Following fire, Woburn saves family’s holiday

Nancy Nille, a nurse at the Lahey Clinic, left some clothes for Rick Greene’s family yesterday at the banquet room at the Woburn Country Club. Nancy Nille, a nurse at the Lahey Clinic, left some clothes for Rick Greene’s family yesterday at the banquet room at the Woburn Country Club. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / December 24, 2010

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WOBURN — In the morning, tragedy struck for one family here, but before the afternoon was done, the people of Woburn had come together to help create a new Christmas for them.

On Thursday morning, fire gutted the Hinston Street home of Rick and Betsy Greene, killing their three dogs and destroying most of their possessions, including the Christmas gifts for their four children, ages 1, 3, 6, and 8.

Within hours, their clothing sizes were posted on Facebook; blast e-mails went out throughout the community; mothers knocked on the car windows of other mothers in line to pick up their children at school to let them know some Woburn children were in need.

The response was swift, and before the workday had ended, the banquet room at the Woburn Country Club was crammed with donations.

Terry Younis, the manager of the banquet hall, was so overwhelmed with emotion each time another person walked in, arms filled with bags or pockets filled with cash, that all she could say was “merry Christmas.’’

“Woburn is just one of those towns,’’ said Paul McGillvray, a cousin of Rick Greene, standing in the banquet hall.

The fire started shortly after 9 a.m., according to the Woburn Fire Department. The family had left for the day, but its three dogs, a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever named Harley, a 3-year-old Chihuahua named Apple, and a 1-year-old Labrador named Bruin, were home and were killed. The cause of the fire, which spread through all three floors of the house, was under investigation, according to the Fire Department. The home is expected to be a total loss.

“I’m in shock,’’ Greene said, shortly after the fire was extinguished yesterday morning, as he stood outside the home with neighbors. A Bruins flag flew over the front door. In the backyard, a swing set and a Radio Flyer wagon were mixed in with debris.

“All the Christmas presents are gone,’’ said Greene, who is a postal carrier for the Winchester Post Office. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.’’

But by nightfall, Christmas presents were very much back, courtesy of Toys for Tots, the Danvers barracks of the Massachusetts State Police, and an endless influx of neighbors and strangers pulling into the country club, where Greene tends bars some nights.

Toys covered four tables and spilled onto the floor; a state trooper, who had come by to donate toys, arranged many of them neatly under the country club’s Christmas tree.

Judy Mooney came in the door shortly after 4 p.m., her arms filled with bags full of new clothes. “I’d just finished wrapping my own gifts when I heard about this,’’ she said.

“I just couldn’t imagine,’’ she said, her eyes welling up.

Like many of those who came by the country club, she did not know the Greenes personally. But she said this kind of outpouring “is a very Woburn story.’’

The largesse continued into the evening. At a local hotel last night, Rick Greene was greeting a steady stream of people bringing the family supplies.

“It’s crazy. We’re overwhelmed. I’m speechless. I’ve never been more proud to be from this town,’’ he said. “It’s only been 13 hours, and it’s unreal what people have done for us. I can’t put it into words.’’

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com.