Community rallies to help homeless family after campsite robbery

Thursday, September 27, 2018 - 13:06
  • From left, Matt Marble, Sarah Marble and Kyle Sherman pose for a photo near Beach Lake. The homeless family was staying at Eklutna Lake when their campsite was robbed and ransacked on Monday. Local residents have offered to help the family, which is now staying at a cabin owned by the Eagle River Parks and Recreation Department near Beach Lake. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

They’re still looking for a place to live, but a family of three believes they’ve found a community in Eagle River after receiving an outpouring of support from locals in the aftermath of a dispiriting campsite robbery.

“It’s made it home,” said Sarah Marble Wednesday outside her temporary home at Beach Lake Park, where she and her two sons are staying in a dry cabin owned by the local Parks and Recreation department.

Marble and her sons — 23-year-old Matt Marble and 16-year-old Kyle Sherman — have been living out of their car and in local campgrounds since driving to Alaska in July. On Monday, they were away from their campsite at the Eklutna Lake Campground when someone ransacked their tent, making off with valuables such as a camp stove, knives and personal items. The thieves also took an external hard drive with photos and videos of Marble’s late husband.

Marble said she was at an appointment at the Job Center in Wasilla when the theft occurred. Her sons were working out at the Alaska Club, where they exercise daily. In the aftermath of the theft, Marble went on Facebook to “vent” and warn others about thieves in the area.

“Telling people, ‘Be careful with your stuff,’ was my goal,” she said.

The post quickly went viral as offers to help came pouring in. People offered clothing, stoves, gift cards, warm jackets — even dog food for the family’s “weiner dog-pomeranian mix” Bella. Within a day, a GoFundMe set up to take donations had already raised nearly a thousand dollars.

A detective with the Anchorage Police Department got wind of the situation and asked to place a donation box at the Eagle River Parks and Recreation Department office, which is located in the same building as the local police substation. That’s when Parks and Rec staff got involved. The department has two dry cabins for rent at Beach Lake for $50 a night, which Eagle River Parks manager Karen Richards thought would be ideal for the trio to use on a temporary basis. So she and members of her staff chipped in to pay the nightly rental out of their own pockets.

“I offered to foot the bill for a couple nights until she gets situated,” Richards said Wednesday.

The offer came just in time, Sarah Marble said. Sleeping in a tent in late September in Alaska can get a bit chilly, and she’d been resorting to cuddling with Bella to keep warm.

“It frosted last night,” she said.

The solution is only temporary, Richards said, but Matt Marble said the gesture was overwhelming.

“I’ve never seen kindness like this before,” he said.

Rough road

Sarah Marble said she never intended to be homeless. The plan was for she and her sons to travel to Alaska and use money from a previous rental deposit to move into a place.

“We were like, ‘Okay, Alaska or bust,’” she said.

But the trip was costly and Marble had to spend $1,000 on new tires midway through. When they got to Alaska, she said there wasn’t enough money to rent an apartment — but it was summertime in a place with numerous public campgrounds. Marble said she and her sons shuttled between the Eklutna Campground and the Eagle River Campground whenever they reached their 14-day stay limit. But even camping is costly.

“You get into the cycle of eating day to day, paying for your campsite, and then how do you accumulate enough money to get into a place?” she asked.

Kyle is currently being homeschooled while Matt said he’s been focusing on working with a recruiter in hopes of soon joining his sister in the Air Force.

“His full-time job is getting in shape for basic training,” Marble said of her oldest son.

Marble has had a tough run of luck over the past few years. Her husband died eight years ago, and three years ago she and Matt were in a car accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury. She’s worked in drug and alcohol prevention programs in the past and would like to find a full-time job doing something similar.

“Social services is my love,” she said.

Marble said she wasn’t looking for a handout when she posted on Facebook.

“When you have people who are homeless, people think it’s because of bad choices in life, bad habits. Well I’ve never used or abused substances in my life, I’m not a bad person, I’m not shady — and neither are my boys,” she said. “So I was just kind of trying to put a little bit of a background in there saying, ‘Even though we’re homeless in the woods, who does that to people?’ And the response was just like, whoa, head-spinning.”

“Everybody sticks together”

Among the people who have offered to help are the owners of Trustworthy Hardware in Eagle River, where Justin Phillips said he’s taking gift card donations for the family. Phillips — who owns the store with his wife, Kelsey, and Michelle and Gordy Banfield — said offering to help just seemed like the right thing to do for a family in need.

“We’ve all been a part of the community for a long time, so it’s always good to help out,” he said.

Phillips said he’s been touched to see the overwhelming response by townspeople.

“It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “Everybody sticks together.”

Tanya Isrka, Richards’ assistant in the Parks and Rec office, echoed Phillips’s sentiments.

“I’m super impressed with the Eagle River community for coming together for some we know so little about,” she said.

The impact on Sarah Marble and her boys has been profound.

“There’s a huge stigma and shame attached to being in our situation,” she said. “So yes, the absolute truth is the stuff is helpful but it’s meaningless unless the heart’s behind it.”

Matt Marble said he thinks Eagle River is a special place.

“It feels like old-school America,” he said.

Matt Marble wants to get to basic training as soon as possible, and his mom is hopeful she’ll find a job soon and be able to move into a full-time home with Kyle. She doesn’t want to rely on handouts forever.

“I’m not the type of person that has ever asked for help,” she said. “I just kind of put my head down, put one foot in front of the other and kinda go every day one day at a time. If you keep plugging away it’ll get better eventually.”

The family’s luck appears to be changing. Some of the items stolen — including her husband’s photos and videos — were found near the campground undamaged. And after spending their first night in a warm, dry cabin in some time, Sarah said she’s already looking forward to the day when she can repay the kindness shown her by the strangers of Chugiak-Eagle River.

“It’s amazing and such a huge win and I don’t know how to even begin to show my gratitude other than once we’re out of this start my own efforts to pay it back,” she said.

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