Nancy Wesling knew her clinic would be relocating its Salem, Ill., site in the near future. What she didn’t know until Sept. 25 was how soon.
That was the morning she watched helplessly as Pregnancy Care Clinic—which had been located at 209 South Walnut St. for 19 years—burned to the ground, despite the combined efforts to salvage the building by firefighters from four different communities.
The blaze was the second of two devastating fires in a matter of 48 hours and in three-block radius. Both fires are believed to be arsons, destroying five structures in all, including a family’s home, the pregnancy clinic and three vacated buildings.
“It was an absolute and total loss,” Wesling, the founding director of the clinic that has served the community since 1991, said. “We have not a pencil left. It was pretty sad, but we know we have a place to go.
“We were in that building for 19 years. We’ve got scrapbooks of our banquets and our walk for life, and we always had our moms give us a picture of their baby, so we had one hallway where the wall was covered with baby pictures dating back to 1991.”
For a town of 8,000 that sits 80 miles to the east of St. Louis, the devastating fires were just the latest in an exceptionally trying year for the community. Since February, the small town has seen 12 people commit suicide, most of whom were teenagers.
The night before the first fire, which started in the second floor of the historic Brown Shoe Factory building and knocked out the power for 1,433 residences, a 16-year-old girl became the latest to take her own life.
“People around here are just dumbfounded,” Wesling said. “It’s an evil spiritual attack. The churches have banded together, we’ve been having prayer vigils, and just trying to combat it any way we can. It’s just unbelievably bizarre the things that are happening—there’s no excuse for it, other than that it’s just Satan taking out what he can. It’s just awful.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s been a very strange year.”
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While local churches have locked arms during the troubling season, Wesling said the community’s response to the loss of Pregnancy Care Clinic's building has been unmatched.
Three local businesses immediately stepped up to serve as drop-off points for the clinic to replenish its supply of needed baby items, while the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus have already set the wheels in motion on fundraising to replace an ultrasound machine that had been reduced to, as Wesling put it, “a puddle of plastic.”
Meanwhile, churches and individual residents have kept Wesling’s phone ringing in the aftermath of the fire, offering to help and asking what they can do to help rebuild the clinic. Heartbeat International is also replacing its training materials and resources the clinic lost in the fire.
Clients are being directed to the organization’s campus 18 miles away in Centralia, which also has free ultrasound services, while Wesling and her Salem staff set up camp in their new facilities, just three blocks up the street from their previous location.
Wesling says she hopes to see clients in the new location by the end of October—a timeline that has been sped up because of the generosity of the seller, who offered to leave desks and filing cabinets behind in the space Pregnancy Care Clinic will occupy.
By January, when lease agreements with the building’s tenants expire, the clinic will expand into the 2,500 square foot facility they signed papers on just days before the fire.
“We just have no doubt in our minds that was a God thing,” Wesling said. “We can see God in it if we look past the ashes.”
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