Antonio Arroyo and his wife Jill are dedicated Lycoming College football fans, but that's not why they were so excited to see a pile of free Lycoming College Warrior-themed clothing awaiting them Thursday night at the Genetti Hotel. The couple, whose son, also named Antonio, is a linebacker for the team, were filled with relief because that meant they would have something to wear on Friday.
The Arroyos' Allentown home was destroyed in a Feb. 9 gas explosion. The home where their son spent his high school years had been filled with memorabilia from his sports career, from DVDs of games and meets to a prized helmet. Now, those items are all gone, but the family is just relieved to have made it out alive. Five died in the fire and several homes were destroyed, according to news reports.
The younger Antonio was all smiles after seeing his parents for the first time since the disaster, but quickly sobered when talking about the phone call he received from his mother after the explosion.
Lycoming College freshman Antonio Arroyo, right, was relieved and grateful to see his parents, Antonio and Jill, unharmed after the family’s home in Allentown was destroyed in the Feb. 9 gas explosion. The parents came to meet their son Thursday.
"I popped right out of my bed," he said. "That whole night, I didn't sleep."
He followed the developments of the story online and said it took a while for the shock to wear off. He's still unsure whether he will want to visit his old neighborhood when he goes home this weekend; he and his parents will stay at his sister's house.
"I was pretty emotional just seeing the stuff online," he said. "I can only imagine seeing it in person."
Arroyo was a volunteer football coach for most of his son's young career and he and his wife attended every Lycoming College game during his freshman year.
"I take pride in Lyco football," he said, adding that he will visit the school store while the family is in town to find a "Bleed blue and yellow" T-shirt similar to the one he lost in the fire.
Arroyo's pride in his son was evident as he talked about the things he will miss most from the family's home. After describing one of his son's most memorable wrestling meets during high school, he said, "I had a videotape of that."
Another item he will miss is the jar in which he kept his children's baby teeth. He and Jill also have two daughters, age 22 and 24.
The Arroyos stayed with their daughter in the first days after the explosion and now are trying to put together a small space offered by a friend.
"He offered to give me and my wife the top floor (of his home), which is two rooms," Arroyo said.
Because the couple needs to furnish the space, it still looks pretty empty.
"We're just trying to take it one step at a time," he said.
After being hit with the blow of losing their home and all their possessions, the Arroyos have been overwhelmed by something else - generosity.
"You don't realize the goodness of people until something like this happens," Arroyo said. "It's a humbling feeling ... We're just overwhelmed."
People have donated gift cards, allowing the family to pick out their own items, and members of Arroyo's motorcycle club sent beds. In addition, the Lycoming College community has stepped up to help the family. Daniel Hartsock, assistant dean for sophomores, spent time talking to Antonio, who didn't want to upset his parents by talking about the explosion too much. In addition, the dean sent out a campus-wide e-mail soliciting donations for the family.
"We came here to pick up our son and Lycoming picked up the hotel (tab) and they're finding places for us to eat ... I was told that I don't have to worry about anything," Arroyo said.
Jill Arroyo told head football coach Mike Clark the couple might finally get their first good night's sleep Thursday because they could relax for once.
"We just would like to rebuild," Arroyo said. "We're going to take a couple months to save money," he said, adding that the couple will be very picky about their home's location this time around. He and his wife will not buy a house anywhere near a gas line ever again.
"We're going to have questions that a lot of people wouldn't ask," he said.
As the family begins to put back the pieces of their lives, Arroyo's expectations for his son have not diminished.
"I'm hoping that he can stay focused," he said. "I really feel that Lycoming (football) is going to be winning a championship (next year) and I want him to be part of it."
It's still hard for the family to comprehend the loss, though. When asked what people could do to help, Arroyo said the question is too overwhelming to consider.
"It's like walking into a store with no clothes on," he said.