News

Howell family that lost everything in house fire surprised with Christmas blessing

Brighton Ford stepped in to help a struggling family
The Willhite family home in Howell is uninhabitable after a fire broke out Dec. 10, 2023.
Posted at 9:58 PM, Dec 22, 2023

HOWELL, Mich. (WXYZ) — When a Howell family lost everything to a house fire, a local car dealership stepped up to help.

Jeff Willhite and his four children have lived at their Howell home on Hadden Avenue for four years. On Dec. 10, the family was at church and the oldest son Shane Willhite had already returned home when he heard the fire alarm go off.

“It was just too big for him to stop it," Jeff Willhite said.

Shane Willhite got out of the home and called the fire department as he watched his home quickly become engulfed in smoke and flames. The fire department later told the family the fire was caused by an extension cord that was connected to a heater.

The worst damage was in 16-year-old's Kadence Willhite's room.

“My rabbit that I just got, she sadly passed," Kadence Willhite said. "A lot of my belongings that I had, sentimental stuff.”

The Willhite family home in Howell is uninhabitable after a fire broke out Dec. 10, 2023.
The Willhite family home in Howell is uninhabitable after a fire broke out Dec. 10, 2023.

Some of the sentimental items that were lost include jewelry that belonged to her mom, who died of lung cancer in 2011.

"They just gave her eight months to live," Jeff Willhite said. "And it was eight months to the day.”

When Brighton Ford Vice President John Cueter heard of the family’s story, he knew he had to do something to help.

“It’s so important to give back," he said. "This particular story really grabbed our heartstrings and said we really need to do whatever we can to help this family.”

A dealership staff member took in Kadence Willhite to live with her. The other children have been taken in by other families since the home is uninhabitable. The dealership also put together care packages filled with toiletries, blankets and gift cards for every family member that they were surprised with Friday.

“Just very thankful for everyone and their help, super big blessing for us. Anything really helps," Kadence Willhite said.

In fact, the dealership has helped four other families this holiday season and has donated thousands of toys. Earlier this year, Cueter gave away his home to a family that also lost everything in a fire.

“I have a home here and I offered them my house because they had no where to go," Cueter said.

The family has a GoFundMe page set up to help them get through these tough times.