Community rallies after fire

Damiana Alacantara stands with her sons, Javier and Javy in their temporary 1 bedroom apartment.
Photo by Edwin Soto

One fire wasn’t bad enough.

Just over five years after a fire ravaged 752 Pelham Parkway South, a second fire destroyed the homes of many of the same tenants on January 4th.

Now, with the help of community members, they’re trying to put back their lives one more time.

“The first time was devastating,” said tenant Anna Castillo. “But this was more devastating because we had just recuperated.”

Castillo said she had just finished buying a bedroom set, and that the New Year’s timing added to the hurt. “To have this happen again after the holidays, after having kids open gifts, was just too much.”

Castillo has found herself in the unfortunate position of being both a victim and an advocate. She has struggled to get public assistance for herself or the other families, and is searching for support for their ongoing struggle.

She said the fire is taking a huge financial and emotional toll on the tenants, who didn’t have renters’ insurance. One tenant is pregnant and lost everything she had bought for the baby. An elderly tenant who is still displaced is desperate to come back to his home. A family of five was moved to a one-bedroom apartment in the building. But although their needs are great, they have received some help.

Just days after the fire, Castillo reached out to Joe Thompson, president of the 49th Precinct Community Council. She knew him from his involvement in efforts after the first fire. “I reached out to him because I don’t know who else to reach out to.”

Thompson said because of his connections in the community, he knew who to ask for help.

“That’s a role our council plays, we’re all over the community, “ he said. “When we need help, we know where to find it.”

After Thompson reached out, P.S. 108 ran a food drive and P.S. 105 ran a food and clothing drive.

That food drive at P.S. 108 inspired Roseann Hendon, who works there, and her husband Dexter to donate living room furniture they were about to sell. Dexter Hendon said it was good timing that they were in the process of buying a new set, and that he was happy they could help.

“When families are in need,” said Hendon, “that’s what communities should do.”

Thompson also reached out to the local clergy council, which has started collecting coats. He also called the owner of Reda Dry Cleaners, who had previously offered leftover clothing for donation after learning of Thompson’s role in the community.

Thompson also mentioned Reverend Hernquist of the Van Nest Assembly of God, who donated $500 worth of food vouchers unsolicited after hearing of the situation.

“I don’t have to twist any people’s arms,” Thompson said. “We know they’re not wealthy, we know they need certain things and people respond to that.”

Although the tenants still need help to move on from the fire, Castillo said that she and the other tenants are very appreciative of the community support.

“We’re very grateful to Joe Thompson,” she said.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.
A fire badly damaged apartments at 752 Pelham Parkway South on Jan. 4.
Photo by Edwin Soto

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