Neighbors reach out to help Holyoke fire victims

  • Jacqueline Glasheen, principal of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School in Holyoke, opened up the school gymnasium Sunday, January 1, 2017, and Monday to accept donations for the scores of people left homeless by a New Year's Day fire that destroyed a neighborhood apartment building and claimed the lives of three people.

  • Keisha Santos and her son Elijah, 6, of Holyoke pause outside of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School in Holyoke on Monday after dropping off a donation for people left homeless by a New Year’s Day fire. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • By 4 p.m. Monday, January 2, 2017, the gymnaisum of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School in Holyoke was filled with donations for the scores of people left homeless by a New Year's Day that destroyed a neighborhood apartment building and claimed the lives of three people.

  • Jacqueline Glasheen, principal of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School in Holyoke, posts a notice late Monday not to leave donated items outside the school door just as Colleen Senecal of West Springfield was arriving with a donation of her own. GAZETTE SATFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jacqueline Glasheen, principal of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School in Holyoke, shows Colin Demers of Chicopee where to place his box in the gym with other items donated on Monday, January 2, 2017, for the scores of people left homeless by a New Year's Day fire that destroyed a neighborhood apartment building and claimed the lives of three people.

  • Jacqueline Glasheen, center, principal of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School in Holyoke, talks with Kim Demers, left, of Chicopee, a classmate from junior high school in Holyoke whom she hadn't seen in years. Demers came to the school on Monday, January 2, 2017, with her sons Colin, right, and Matthew (not shown) to donate some items for the scores of people left homeless by a New Year's Day fire that destroyed a neighborhood apartment building and claimed the lives of three people.

@JackSuntrup
Published: 1/2/2017 10:33:44 PM

HOLYOKE — Jackie Glasheen rolled up to 106 North East St. Sunday morning to find flames tearing through the five-story apartment building and families on the curb in their pajamas.

“I was horrified. It was surreal. It was scary,” the principal of Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School said. “My families were standing there. … They had nothing.”

The K-8 school she runs in the Holyoke’s Flats neighborhood is one block away. Soon, it would become a makeshift shelter for almost 50 people who lost everything in the New Year’s Day fire.

Authorities said Monday evening that three people had died in the blaze. Two of the victims were identified as Maria Cartagena, 48, of Holyoke, and Jorge Munoz, 55, also of Holyoke. Crews recovered a third body late Monday afternoon, bringing the death toll to three. That person’s name was not released Monday.

In the early hours after the fire, weary-eyed adults consoled each other in the cafeteria at tables built for children. Residents browsed through clothes and American Red Cross volunteers in red vests with clipboards buzzed around the room to get a handle on the situation.

Michael Arroyo, 20, said his mom woke him up screaming and he and his family ran out of the building.

He said debris fell in the area where his mom’s car was parked, and at the time, he didn’t know the condition of the car. As far as belongings inside the apartment, he said, “we lost everything.”

Stories of devastating losses and miraculous rescues elicited an overwhelming response from the community, Glasheen said. She said four of her students and 11 Holyoke public school students were living in the building at the time of the fire.

On Monday afternoon, the entire school gymnasium was packed with mattresses, shoes, clothing, food and more. The school was packed with so much stuff that Glasheen had to ask people at the door to bring their donations elsewhere or donate money to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund.

Mary Nathan, western Massachusetts disaster program manager for the American Red Cross, said Monday that 10 to 15 of the 27 families affected had been relocated to new apartments while the remaining families were either placed in hotels or stayed with family Sunday night.

Angelena Sanchez pulled up to the school Monday afternoon and stacked five boxes of chicken and beef ramen noodles in her arms.

“All we have is soup and you can’t go wrong with that,” she said.

Keisha Santos, 32, of Holyoke, rolled up to the school with her parents and son Elijah, 6. She said she is an “extreme couponer” who had lots of inventory to donate — toys, water, juice, hygeine products, pillows.

“I just wanted to help out,” she said. “I lived in the Flats for 23 years.”

City officials set up a GoFundMe page for the victims Sunday which as of 8 p.m. Monday had raised just over $27,000 for the families.

Donations can also be mailed to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund, 538 Dwight St., Holyoke, MA 01040.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.


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