The fires set all across Winnetka Heights in November caused a lot of damage — nearly $70,000, as we’ve reported. But they weren’t able to destroy the neighborhood’s spirit; in fact, the fires had almost the opposite effect. Neighbors rallied together to patrol the streets and care for the people who fell victim to the crimes for which four 12- and 13-year-olds were arrested.

"It’s sad that those kids did what they did, but that’s why we live down here," Winnetka Heights resident Fran Gaconnier told me, referring to the tight-knit group among which she lives. "To see the neighborhood come together like that …"

One of the most heartwarming stories concerns a family with five children, who lost a large portion of their fence to alley fires. Neighbor Heidi Maher spoke to the children’s mother, and learned that the yard could not be used by her young children until it was cleaned up and the fence was repaired.

With the help of crime watch leader George Lee, Maher sent an e-mail out to Winnetka Heights residents, saying that "we can all agree that this is the worst time of the year to be incurring unforeseen expenditures, especially given the state of our unpredictable economy. And, I know that most of us can empathize with the toll that random vandalism has taken on our pocketbooks in the past." She asked everyone to consider contributing $5-$10 toward the fence repair.

Roughly $400 was collected from that simple effort, and local contractor types worked on getting supplies donated, too, Gaconnier says. Everyone should be so lucky to live among such neighbors.