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Pine teen comes through for friend following fire

Marissa Torchia (left) secretly raised $400 to buy a Visa gift card for Caitlin Bierema (right). She and her family lost their home on Old State Road in Pine as a result of an April 22, 2013, dryer fire. Marissa and Caitlin, both 15, are sophomores at Pine-Richland High School.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Marissa Torchia, 15, of Pine wanted to help classmate Caitlin Bierema, also 15, after a dryer fire destroyed Caitlin's home on Old State Road, also in Pine.

Both ride the same bus to Pine-Richland High School, where Marissa asked teachers for permission to solicit peers.

“I stood up and asked people in my classes if they wanted to help,” said Marissa, who also sought donations from friends on Facebook.

Marissa ultimately collected $400 for a surprise VISA gift card for Caitlin and her family.

“I was happy to help,” Marissa said.” I was thinking she could use it to buy clothes.”

Indeed, Caitlin used the card to buy clothes, makeup and shoes.

“We lost everything,” said Carrie Cohen, Caitlin's mom. “It was absolutely wonderful what Marissa did for Caitlin and our family.”

The April 22 fire started as Cohen was stripping beds upstairs after placing freshly washed rags in her laundry dryer.

When her home's fire alarm and smoke detector began to buzz, it took Cohen a while to discover the source — flames in her dryer, which already had spread into walls and ductwork.

Inside the dryer, the rags included one that Cohen had used — before she washed it — to dry her hands after cleaning some paintbrushes with paint thinner.

Cohen said she originally planned to throw out that rag with garbage, but changed her mind to avoid the possibility of the rag starting a fire through spontaneous combustion.

The April 22 fire occurred two weeks after Caitlin's birthday and destroyed new clothes that Caitlin bought with birthday gift money, according to her mother.

“It was absolutely wonderful what Marissa did for Caitlin and our family,” Cohen said. “It meant so much for Caitlin to know that her friends were there.”

Several weeks after the fire, Caitlin got a text message from Marissa.

“She said she had a surprise for me,” Caitlin said. “I didn't know what to expect.

“When I got to school the next day, she gave me a card, and inside was the VISA gift card,” Caitlin said. “It was really, really amazing for her to do that. It was probably one of the nicest things that anybody has ever done for me.”

“I went to Ross Park Mall with my mother,” Caitlin said. “We got shoes, and some clothes, and just things that made us feel a little happier.”

Caitlin says the VISA gift card still has about $100 in buying power, which Caitlin hopes to save and spend on new fall and winter clothes.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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