Longtime charity partners of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp have committed millions of dollars to help the camp rebuild after a devastating fire burned down a number of buildings at the Ashford, Conn., site.
On Friday, four buildings that housed the camp store, arts and crafts, woodshop and cooking programs in an area known as Downtown were destroyed following the blaze, which was reported to fire officials through an automatic fire alarm just before 5 p.m. on Friday.
Within days, the Newman’s Own Foundation, the Travelers Companies Inc. and the Travelers Championship stepped up to help the community, which has offered an emotional escape for tens of thousands of children with severe and life-threatening illnesses and their families since 1988.
The Newman’s Own Foundation, which donates profits from the sale of Newman's Own products to nonprofits, including the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, committed $1 million toward the rebuilding effort.
“I have encouraged my colleague and friend, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp CEO Jimmy Canton, to rebuild in a manner that not only meets the current needs of children living with illness and their families, but also helps them pursue their boldest dreams for the future," Newman’s Own Foundation CEO Miriam Nelson said.
The move comes just after the Travelers Companies and the Travelers Championship announced a joint commitment to match up to $1 million in donations that are being sent to the camp.
“For more than three decades, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp has brought hope and healing to children and families struggling with serious illnesses,” Travelers CEO Alan Schnitzer said. “Now, after this devastating fire, the camp itself is in need of hope and healing."
The camp's chief executive, Canton, confirmed in an Instagram post on Friday evening that it appeared no one was injured in the fire and thanked the local fire departments and Connecticut State Police Troop C for their "quick response."
Tom Borgman, the deputy chief of the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department, said it took about 90 minutes to bring the fire under control and firefighters were also able to save the camp’s infirmary and dining hall, according to multiple reports.
“There was a heavy, heavy fire,” he said. “That section of the structure was burning pretty hard and it was close to the dining hall. It was very hard work that saved that.”
Although the iconic Old West-themed buildings are gone, the memories and true purpose of the camp — offering children and their families an escape from their daunting daily routines with the chance to "just be kids" and even “raise a little hell" — will live on, the camp wrote on Instagram.
"While these iconic buildings may be gone, the memories made inside live on forever and we will rebuild Downtown Camp so that more children and families can experience the magic of Hole in the Wall for many years to come," the camp wrote.
The legendary camp works to provide a "different kind of healing" to 20,000 children and their families each year by altering traditional camp programs so anyone with a physical or mental limitation can participate — and it's completely free of charge.
Although The Hole in the Wall provides multiple camp experiences throughout the year on its grounds in Connecticut, staff members also work diligently to provide a "different kind of healing" in camper homes, communities and at more than 40 hospitals and clinics across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
The camp is funded in part through proceeds from the sale of Newman’s Own brand products. The Hole in the Wall has also been a primary beneficiary of the Travelers Championship, the PGA Tour event held each year in Connecticut, for well over a decade.
Within hours of the news breaking, support began pouring in from droves of volunteers, staff members and campers who are familiar with the "transformational spirit and friendships that go hand-in-hand" with the camp.
"Camp is so much more than just buildings," actor Anna Wood said on Instagram. "The spirit of Camp is unscathed and we will rally and rebuild together!"
Many current and former staff members even created their own fundraisers on Facebook to help rebuild.
"We have seen a tremendous outpouring of support and deeply appreciate every kind gesture of goodwill," Hole in the Wall Gang Camp Chief Communications Officer Ryan Thompson said. "The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp has always relied on the support of others."
Thompson said the camp "will keep the community informed about specific ways they may be able to help in the future," but in the meantime, they are asking "people to embrace the spirit of friendship that The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is founded on" and to keep the children and families "in their hearts."
"We will rebuild and continue bringing Paul Newman’s dream of 'a different kind of healing' to more children with serious illnesses and their families," Thompson added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.