Friday, March 14, 2008

sometimes you have to find hope in the little things

I woke up to the news that there was a fire in Mount Pleasant and that 16th Street was closed and that was all I knew. My first thought was, I hope everyone’s ok. My second thought was, Did my office burn down?

I didn’t know what to expect when I got to work. As I walked from the Metro, I noticed that Irving Street was practically empty. I got closer to 16th St. and noticed the fire trucks and police vehicles. They were pretty much everywhere, but I saw that one was parked in front of my building. I approached the office and noticed my workplace was spared. The church on the same block was not.

The Meridian Baptist Church was missing a roof. It had burned down. As I got closer, I got a big whiff of the smoke that was inescapable. That church is also a shelter for the homeless. I hope they find a new place to sleep.

I had no idea that the fire didn’t originate at the Church until I walked over to Heller’s Bakery for breakfast. On my walk there, I saw even more fire department activity. In the distance, the sun shined brightly on the smoke that hung around the asphalt surface. I walked towards the strangely beautiful visage and the ugliest image came into view.

It was a hollow apartment building. The same one that had been full of life the day before when I was doing community outreach. The glass windows were shattered. It was missing a roof and several floors and the back of the building. It was awful to look at.

I turned to look at the crowd across the street. A girl walked passed me with her friend. She was telling her friend, “What am I going to do now? I can’t afford to go back to school.” She was in tears. Her friend put her arm around her. If I was her friend, I’m not sure I could’ve down much more than that to make her feel better. Sometimes you just need to know you have support.

Speaking of support, my co-workers were helping out with the melee across the street. Everyone was trying to get some more information. In Spanish, I heard the displaced ask, “When can I go back?” and “Is there anything left?” and “What am I going to do?” I walked back to work with a heavy heart. What can I do to help? I wondered.

When I got back to work, I noticed that it had turned into a temporary shelter for the displaced. The receptionist was fielding many calls from people wanting to help. As the adults stared blankly at the TV screen, I did my best to play with the kids. I wanted to take their minds off of what they had just gone through. I really wanted to make them forget.

But they can’t and they won’t.

Still, a sweet smile is a small victory in times like these.

And as I spent time distracting the kids, I hoped the parents knew that they weren’t going through this alone. They have our support. The entire community’s support. By the end of the day, we had received over 100 calls from people wanting to help in some way.

One day the displaced will realize that they’re not going through this alone.


instatick said...

This post gave me chills. Seriously. Good job.

Capitol Hill 20210 said...

You have such a great heart.

Do you know if they set up a donation area for items, I have three garbage bags of clothes I was going to take to the Salvation Army, that I could donate to them?

lizzie said...

instatick--thank you for the compliment. writing this post was like lifting an emotional burden.

CH 20210--you can donate anything and drop it off here (seriously, these people fled with just the clothes they were wearing. they could use just about anything, from toiletries, to food, to coats and blankets):

Neighbors' Consejo
3118 16th St. NW
Washington DC 20010

It's just two blocks from Columbia Heights Metro.

Anonymous said...

I'm nowhere near DC right now, but have been reading this week's Washington Post series on how possibly corrupt (never said, but the implication I got) the DC housing authority has become. Case in point: burning out low-rent buildings to get rid of tenants and convert the buildings to much-desired condos. The outlook is not great. I hope the people living in the building get compensation and a place to live soon -- and help does not just come from caring individuals.

Capitol Hill 20210 said...

I have plenty of stuff........will make the trip this weekend..........

lizzie said...

anon--I truly hope someone didn't burn down this building on purpose. the people who were displaced are currently staying at a hotel, per DC's emergency plan. they are allowed to stay there for only 3 days. after that, they are on their own. right now, i think the help from caring individuals is all they've got. and currently, it's pouring in. i'm actually really proud of the turn out.

CH 20210--that's great! we'll be here on the weekend. i know they'll appreciate anything...blankets, shoes, whatever.