ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Less than two weeks after the Feb. 25 downtown Alexandria fire that ruined her apartment, Amy Ridenour got her smile back.

In her hurry to leave her apartment the morning of the fire, the 49-year-old grabbed her purse but left her full set of dentures behind. Since the dentures were relatively new, her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of another set.

She tried to joke about it, but was deeply worried.

“Oh my God, I don’t have teeth,” she realized. “How can I go to work?”

Ridenour works two jobs. She’s a phlebotomist at Alomere Health in Alexandria and also a caregiver at a group home. She calls herself a “tough cookie,” but the fire left her feeling hopeless and self-conscious about her appearance.

As she and about two dozen other fire victims tried to cope with the shock of the events that February morning, word spread that someone had lost their dentures in the fire. The news reached Josh Eddy, owner of Custom Crown Craft, and Dani Peterson, office manager at the nearby Dental Health Associates.

Eddy thought about it that night and decided the next morning to start calling dentists. He told the first one he called, Dental Health Associates, that if they would fit the fire victim for new dentures, he would make them.

Peterson had already been thinking along the same lines. She got the dentists on board, then contacted a friend at the local American Red Cross chapter and asked him to help her reach the person who had lost their dentures.

Very quickly, the Red Cross got hold of Ridenour, and before noon she was sitting in a dentist chair, ready for the first molds of her teeth. Over the next week or so she had multiple fittings, and Eddy worked the weekend to speed the process along.

The dentists were particular about getting the dentures just right, so that they lined up with her face well, closed normally and fit her mouth well.

That’s not all

While that work was going on, Ridenour experienced other kindnesses. The staff at Days Inn, where she stayed for several days, provided three meals a day and helped organize donated clothes for fire victims. Co-workers gave her cards, money and clothes, and one helped her assemble new outfits.

“I have way cuter clothes than I started out with,” she said.

Six days after the fire, West Central Minnesota Communities Action helped her and her 24-year-old son get into a new apartment, and two days after that, Caring & Sharing at the Church of St. Mary brought furniture for it.

Being on the receiving end of so much goodness was a new experience for Ridenour, who says she has always been the caregiver. Their thoughtfulness helped restore her hope.

“People are so amazing,” she said. “People are constantly asking, ‘What can I do?’ It feels like this great big heart that keeps on giving.”

She used up all her vacation time and sick leave at work, and went back to her duties before the dentures were quite ready. She was self-conscious working without teeth, she said, but she made it through.

And on March 9, not quite two weeks after the fire that burned her home, Ridenour went into the dental office for the last time.

To her delight, the dentures fitted perfectly. Her old dentures, made in a different city, never closed right, and the bottoms tended to slip out of place.

“You guys are amazing,” she told the dentists and Eddy and Peterson and all the other staff gathered around. "I just want to go smile at everyone I can find."

The crew that helped her was just as delighted.

“Everybody was tearing up,” Eddy said. “It was truly an amazing experience.”

“It’s one small little thing we could do to help her out in all the chaos she went through,” said Dr. Scott Schmidt, one of two dentists who helped Ridenour.

Dr. Tim Gehring, the other dentist, also said he was glad to be able to help.

“It was a real team effort,” he said.

Reporter Lowell Anderson contributed to this story.