UPPER LEACOCK TWP., Pa. - Community members have raised thousands of dollars for an elderly man and his disabled daughter who have been living in their van for the last three months.
It all started a few weeks ago when John Labar, a volunteer firefighter with Upper Leacock Fire Company, noticed Richard and Virginia Smiley sleeping in their van in a gas station parking lot.
"The fact of her having to be crunched up in that front seat, it just puts knots in my gut," he recalled. "Nobody should have to live like that."
Virginia Smiley suffers from spina bifida, scoliosis and water on the brain.
"Going through this is pushing my limits without me doing it," she said. "It hurts to move. Sometimes, I barely do get out, just because I can't."
The Smileys ended up in their van in August. They had been staying in a Lancaster County motel, where they had an agreement with the owners to make payment when Richard Smiley's Social Security checks would clear a few days after the due date.
But new ownership took over, and "the new people wouldn't do that, so we had to leave and we wound up living in our van," Richard Smiley said.
Labar's sense of compassion kicked in, and he offered to help. He tried to get information about assistance housing for the Smileys, but they figured it would take too long to get the Smileys situated. In the meantime, Labar and other firefighters helped fix some of the problems with the Smileys' van.
"They would probably be stuck alongside the road with a broke down van without nothing," Labar said. "Then it would be nothing."
"We would have been up a creek, and they helped us out tremendously, especially whenever the van started going wrong," Richard Smiley said.
Labar set up a GoFundMe page for the Smileys, which has raised more than $20,000 to date for the Smileys.
"It actually restores your faith in humanity," Labar said. "With the help of everybody else that's all involved in this now, we can work to get them in a permanent home."
The Smileys say they are overwhelmed by the support they have received.
"Being who they are is amazing," Virginia Smiley said "[The firefighters] don't have to do anything they're doing."
"I've heard a lot of people...say there's no such thing as God, but they're wrong," Richard Smiley said. "I've seen too many of the miracles, and this is above and beyond."
The Smileys are hoping to find permanent housing in Lancaster County. Richard Smiley's wife is recuperating in a care facility, but can be discharged once the Smileys find a permanent home.
If you wish to donate independent from the GoFundMe page, the Conestoga Valley Ministerium is accepting donations on behalf of the Smileys. Checks should be made payable to CV Ministerium and reference the Smileys in the memo section.