‘We couldn’t do anything less’: Overland Park steps up to help mom, toddler after fire

Overland Park Fire Department

Organizers of a small Overland Park food pantry are gathering donations to help a family after a car fire sent a toddler to the hospital with burn injuries and destroyed all of the family’s worldly possessions Thursday afternoon.

For just over two years, Jennifer and Adam Parker have hosted Tiny Pantry Times, at 7215 W. 71st St., a nonprofit food pantry operated out of their front yard. In a blue, house-shaped box beside the driveway, the shelves are stocked with canned foods, perishables and other donated necessities meant for those in need to take as needed.

Oftentimes visitors use the pantry so quickly that they come and go before the Parkers know it. But on Thursday afternoon, Jennifer Parker was at work when her husband sent a video captured by their doorbell camera showing a harrowing scene.

She watched in horror as flames arose at the end of their driveway. A vehicle was on fire, a mother was screaming and a panicked man was frantically trying to wrestle a toddler from the rear car seat.

Luckily, Parker said, the child escaped serious injury. But the disaster has left those visitors, including a young mother and child in the process of transitioning to secure housing, in dire straits.

Firefighters arrived around 1 p.m. to find the car still aflame, smoke pouring out. Three adults and a child were examined on scene. The fire was extinguished, and the child was taken to the hospital with burns and was last listed in stable condition, the department said.

The food pantry, which is free and open all day every day, started off during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jennifer Parker says the donations, fueled by a 700-member online group through NextDoor.com, shelve out roughly 7,500 pounds of food in a given month — meeting a need in Johnson County larger than the Parkers ever expected.

Now, the Parkers and others in the Tiny Pantry Times community have begun fundraising in hopes of providing additional help to one family that needs more than what’s in the pantry. A GoFundMe set up Thursday seeks $5,000 in donations to help with medical bills and other expenses, such as the replacement of the items lost.

“We couldn’t do anything less. These people have already been through hell,” Jennifer Parker said.

In the wake of it all, Jennifer Parker said she hopes the family will received a greater amount of support. Had the fire never occurred, she said, they could have walked away with as much food as they needed and been on their way — but she believes that God had another plan.

“I just really hope something positive comes out of it for this family,” she said.

Donations are being collected through a GoFundMe webpage created Thursday night and through the Tiny Pantry Times website. Donations intended for the fire victims that are made through the organization’s website are asked to be specifically marked as such.