Forty apartments destroyed. $1.3 million in damage. One hundred and thirty residents displaced.
Those are the stats from the apartment fire that ripped through Woodscape apartments on Farm Pond Lane in east Charlotte July 17.
What you don’t see in the stats are stories of desperation in the face of potential tragedy — parents and children jumping to safety out of second the third floor apartment windows. Seven people were hospitalized but, fortunately, no lives were lost.
I first heard about the fire on the morning news last Monday. It hit home on a personal level. I live on the third floor of an apartment complex — this could have happened to me. I had some time. I had to get involved. So I got in touch with the American Red Cross.
As what is referred to as a spontaneous volunteer, I essentially showed up at the shelter, offered my services, and they put me right to work.
The first few days were focused on dealing the direct aftermath of the fire.
With Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools out for the summer, Red Cross was able to set up a shelter within a half mile of the fire scene at Albemarle Road Middle School. Cots and blankets were set up in the school’s gymnasium by Red Cross staff and volunteers to accommodate those who required one. The nearby location allowed those displaced easy access in the coming days to retrieve whatever belongings they could from their apartments.
“The biggest concern is we need to find housing,” said Angela Broome Powley, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross. “The residents cannot return to the apartments because the building is condemned. We need to find affordable housing that will not stretch them financially.”
The Red Cross station’s volunteer case workers meet with each displaced family, a process that continues now, more than a week after the fire.
Because many of the displaced residents aren’t native English speakers, volunteer interpreters like Pedro Herrera were available to help translate. Herrera, a native of the Dominican Republic, has lived in Charlotte for 11 years and has volunteered with the Red Cross for more than three years.
“Right now, (the residents) feel so bad because they lost everything they had,” he said. “They’re looking for someone to help them get what they need.”
As case workers evaluate the needs of the families, donations continue to pour in from all over the Charlotte and beyond. From food and water, to clothes and board games, supplies have been steadily coming in from strangers who had seen the news and wanted to help.
“Any time there is a large event like this, the Charlotte community responds beautifully,” said Broome Powley. “I was talking with our partners at New Hope Baptist Church. They say volunteers are coming to help and they are from all races, all languages, and all religions. They’re not worried about what the person looks like, they just want to help their neighbor.”
Now into the second week at the shelter, life goes on for those displaced families. The residents go to work in the morning and come back to the shelter at night. Church services were held over the weekend, kids play in the pool at the YMCA next door, and a 2-year-old’s birthday was celebrated. Bringing a sense of normalcy to a chaotic situation is what the American Red Cross does.
“I love volunteering,” said Herrera. “I see people need help and I’m willing to help.”
“The more you spend time with the Red Cross, the more you see the good work volunteers do,” said Broome Powley. “We’re very grateful for our volunteers — they are the American Red Cross. They do this work because they love their neighbors.”
If you would like more or get involved, visit www.redcross.org.
Photos: Jonathan Lee