About 50 people seek shelter at Lewiston High School

LEWISTON — For 12 years, Kalilwa Kalunga lived as a refugee in Zambia. He moved to Lewiston two years ago with his wife and their five children.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

YWCA Executive Director Kathy Durgan-Leighton, left, Fatuma Ali, 16, second from left, and Maryan Abdi, 18, both Tree Street youth leaders, help Risa Ibrahim, right, find a pair of shoes Saturday at the YWCA in Lewiston. Ibrahim was burned out of her apartment Friday night.

More coverage of the Bartlett Street fire:

Stories from the Blake Street fire:

Helping the victims:

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"I never thought I would be back here, living like this. I don't know what to think or where we are going to go," said Kalilwa Kalunga. Originally from Congo, he spent 11 years in a refugee camp in Zambia before moving to the United States. Kalunga, his five children and wife were among those burned out of their Pierce Street apartments Friday night and were sleeping at Lewiston High School. Kalunga lost everything. He had just returned from the YWCA where he had picked up some clothing and toiletries.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Kalilwa Kalunga returns to the Lewiston High School gym Saturday afternoon after visiting the YWCA to get clothes and toiletries. Kalunga and his family lost everything in Friday night's fire.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Rukia Mohamed, 9, and her sister Fatuma, 15, left, sort through donated food at the YWCA Saturday afternoon. The two were not affected by the fire, but volunteered their time to help fire victims who were slowly filtering into the YWCA in Lewiston to pick up clothes and other items.

If you want to help:

YWCA of Central Maine, 130 East Ave., Lewiston: Volunteers are needed to sort donated items and to help families select clothing sizes. In addition to clothes and other small household items, the Y needs underwear, men’s belts, diapers and plastic totes to pack items. Organizers ask that people do not donate broken items or home decor. Items that are not given away will be sold at a spring yard sale to benefit fire victims.

The Y also will accept gift cards for food and merchandise, and is working with Northeast Bank to set up an emergency relief account for families displaced by the Blake Street and Pierce Street fires.

The Y has extended its hours to remain open until 7 p.m. Saturday and will be open again on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Regular hours during the week are 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

For more information: http://www.ywcamaine.org/, call 795-4050, or email frontdesk@ywcamaine.org.

American Red Cross, United Valley Chapter: The Red Cross provided aid to 75 people left homeless by the Blake Street fire on Monday, 22 people left homeless by a fire on Lisbon Street on Wednesday and anticipates helping more than 100 people as a result of the Pierce Street fire. According to Executive Director Jennifer Gaylord, the agency helped 60 people through all of 2012, and the enormous call for aid this week has strained the agency’s finances. So, the agency needs financial help more than anything. To donate, go to: redcross.org/me or call 795-4004 ex. 301.

“Now,” he said Saturday, “we start again as refugees.”

Kalunga and his family lived in one of the Pierce Street apartment buildings that burned Friday night. They were relocated to the emergency shelter at Lewiston High School. On Saturday afternoon, some members of his family were at the YWCA of Central Maine picking up clothes and shoes.

His children are “feeling bad,” he said, upset about losing their home.

Turning away and wiping a tear, he said, “We begin again. I don’t know how to feel about it. We’re trying to fix a life here.”

The family plans to stay at the high school again Saturday night, but Kalunga said he has no idea where they will go from there. But, they will definitely stay in Lewiston.

“This is our home,” he said.

Kalunga and his family were among about 100 people ousted from their apartments Friday night; of those, about 50 stayed overnight at the high school.

According to Scott Parker of Bethel, a Red Cross disaster assistance team member and shelter manager at the school, the Red Cross brought food and 38 cots to the high school around midnight, bracing for an estimated 100 displaced people to arrive.

Principal Gus LeBlanc arrived to help with the set-up, as did Athletic Director Jason Fuller.

Although fewer than expected stayed overnight because some families stayed with friends, or just didn’t get any sleep, Parker said the Red Cross is anticipating more people will stay overnight Saturday.

He said they were ready.

Local restaurants volunteered breakfast and lunch Saturday, and DaVinci’s Eatery was to provide dinner Saturday night.

Most of the displaced families are Somali immigrants. The Red Cross brought in a number of interpreters to help guide families through the intake process.

As each family arrived, they were given a number and asked to wait to speak to a Red Cross intake officer. During intake, the medical, emotional and housing needs of the families were assessed so a placement plan could be developed.

Interpreters also were used by investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, who were interviewing fire victims as they arrived at the school.

High School junior Mohammad Awil came to the school to help. He said his friend lived in one of the burned-out apartments on Pierce Street, and he offered to help translate for the Red Cross volunteers.

Awil’s friend didn’t get any sleep overnight and arrived at school Saturday morning to take the SATs with the rest of the junior class, Awil said.

He said some of the families he had talked to were feeling stressed because they had no place to go, but were glad to have the assistance of the Red Cross to help them get organized.

Parker said the people who arrived for assistance were cordial and eager to cooperate with volunteers.

“It’s amazing how much fortitude these people have,” he said. A Red Cross volunteer, who heard Parker as she walked by, turned and said, “That’s because this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to them.”

The Red Cross hoped to have a placement plan for each family by Monday morning before school begins, but Parker said schools have been used as shelters while school has been in session before and that might happen in this case.

In addition to students taking the SATs, a number of lacrosse players and other athletes showed up at the school Saturday morning for practice, adding to the crowds in the hallways and gymnasium.

According to Parker, the volume of people displaced by the Pierce Street fire necessitated opening the emergency shelter because the Red Cross doesn’t have the resources to offer vouchers for motel accommodations for so many, especially after it had distributed dozens of vouchers as a result of Monday's fire on Blake Street that displaced 75 people.

Special education teacher Rachel Nadeau came to the school after breakfast to volunteer, and offered to gather the younger children to read aloud.

After she collected a pile of books from her classroom and was walking back to the gym, one of her students saw her and ran up and hugged her. Nadeau, who hugged the student back, said, “I was so worried about you.”

As other students gathered around, Nadeau asked how they all were. They said they were fine. Scared, but fine. Some were barefoot because they didn’t have time to grab shoes before running from their homes.

Nadeau said: “We have great kids here. They’re all good.”

Inside the school gym, a group of middle-school-aged children were playing basketball while younger children were doing puzzles and playing games. A TV was on, but no one sat watching it. The older children were outside playing soccer.

Outside, an older woman struggled along the sidewalk to the school. Asked if she needed help, she said she was hungry. Hours before, outside her apartment building, she was told someone at the school would give her food, so she walked to the school from Pierce Street. She hadn’t been able to locate her daughter by the time she got to the school, but when she arrived many of her neighbors were there and told the woman her daughter was safe.

They made sure she got a meal, and they helped her to the YWCA to get fresh clothes.

At the Y, Youth Program Director Melissa Jackson was busy directing donations and helping families select items. She said she was amazed by the volume of donations and strength of community support she was seeing: all kinds of people, she said, from all walks of life.

The employees were thrilled that so many items had been donated, but YWCA Executive Director Kathy Durgin-Leighton said sorting the donations is labor-intensive and they could use more help. Even if someone only has a couple of hours to spare, they’re welcome to stop by, she said.

The Y will be open to take donations and help fire victims until 7 p.m. Saturday, again from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on  Sunday and then during the week from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Jessica Golder, who lives two blocks from the Blake Street fire and a block from the fire at Pierce Street, has been volunteering at the Y all week.

“Everybody’s coming together to help,” she said. “This is a community affair,” she said, conducted in a state of what she called “controlled chaos.”

“People are coming down to get what they need,” Golder said, and were not getting only clothes and coats. They were getting comfort and sympathy from volunteers, and words of encouragement that help is available.

Some of the adults who came to help sort donations brought their children along, and some of those children brought their allowance money to give to fire victims, she said.

“I know Lewiston is a huge city,” Golder said, "(but) right now it feels like a small town.”

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Kim Berry's picture

What heppened to the others who needed help?

In every photo here, and on the news there is only somalies taking donations with them. Where there no other people displaced? I went to the shelter, and there as well, there were no other people there.

Were they specifically targeted? Or, were the other citizens who we thought were displaced not in need of shelter too? Where did they go? This is very strange.

I wanted to bring donations, but it seems that you have enough women's and children's clothing at this point?

I will stop by tomorrow and volunteer some of my time. I pray for the broken hearts of all of the children (who seem completely missing from evert story I have read and watched so far).
This is truly tragic, brings me to tears. I hope this stops, and that no more X'ed buildings will be set up.

KELLY SCOTTI's picture

Kim, what difference does it

Kim, what difference does it make what nationality they are?

Kristina Myers's picture

YWCA list as of 9PM Sat

Unfortunately, due to our limited space, the only items that we will take tomorrow are the following:

*Teen clothing for BOYS only - no other clothing will be accepted.
*NEW bedding and pillows
*Diapers are needed - sizes 3-5
*Soap, detergent, men's deodorant, toiletries
*Plastic totes, backpacks, duffle bags, luggage (all in good condition, please).

We open tomorrow at 9 am and will remain open until 7 pm.
Lastly, what we really, really need are volunteers. If you have a couple of hours tomorrow, please come and help us help those that have lost everything. You can really make a difference!

Kristina Myers's picture

YWCA is the drop off for your donations

The YWCA is a drop off center... they are open tomorrow between 9am and 7pm. They only need certain things and can only take new/not used of some things. This is the list of needs they posted today:
plus size clothing, men's clothing, teen clothing, and smaller women's clothing sizes 2-8, and we need diapers all sizes. NEW underwear and socks - kids and adults; male and female
Towels, washcloths and sheets/blankets
NEW microwaves and dishes
Hair products/combs for our emigrant and African - American friends
NEW pillows

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