Richmond Hill community leaders spearhead donation campaign to help families displaced by fire

Photo via Twitter/Neir's Tavern

The Richmond Hill community is coming together to help collect and distribute donated items to a dozen families displaced by a fire that burned through multiple dwellings on Jamaica Avenue on Dec. 10. 

Assembly member-elect Jenifer Rajkumar and the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club created a GoFundMe campaign to provide relief to a total of 48 residents — 33 adults and 15 children — left without a home or belongings in the middle of a pandemic and before the holidays. 

To date, the campaign has raised a total of $2,756. Romeo Hitlall, president of the Lions Club, said their goal is to reach $55,000 to give 11 families $5,000 each. 

Photo courtesy of Jenifer Rajkumar

“Most of them are still in hotels, and the others are staying with friends and family,” Hitlall said. “All the donations that we collect, monetary or anything else we get, is going directly to the families. Right now, we have a lot of stuff, and we’re asking for people to donate through the fund and that would be a great help for us.”

More than 200 firefighters and EMS members responded to the six-alarm fire that broke out at around 1 a.m. at 109-25 Jamaica Ave. that took nearly three hours to extinguish. 

According to the FDNY, the flames quickly spread to at least five other buildings, damaging a doctor’s office, barbershop and more. 

Fortunately, there were no lives lost in the incident and three firefighters sustained minor injuries, according to the FDNY. The families and other residents had boarded a bus to stay warm until the Red Cross found them a place to stay. 

The cause of the fire is not yet known but is under investigation by the FDNY marshals.

Following the incident, Rajkumar and Hitlall convened a meeting of south Queens’ all-star team of leaders through zoom, and the group immediately swung into action. 

“We put out a call for donations and the outpouring of love from the community was tremendous.  My office has 3 rooms filled from top to bottom with coats, clothes, food and toys. All week long, people have been calling, emailing and stopping by the office to offer help,” Rajkumar said. “Victims of the fire are being invited to the office to take what they need.  I thank the entire community for coming together to uplift their neighbors at this critical time.”
A child’s note among the boxes of donations. (Photo courtesy of Assembly member-elect Jenifer Rajkumar)

Rajkumar’s request for donated items and the GoFundMe page was shared widely. Her office was soon flooded with calls by residents from all over New York state. The callers were interested in donating gift cards, clothes, food and other items of support. Rajkumar’s transition office and Neir’s Tavern were established as drop-off locations. 

Photo courtesy of Assembly member-elect Jenifer Rajkumar.

This past weekend, people from around the city filled Neir’s Tavern, located at 87-48 78th St. Woodhaven, to near capacity with supplies of food and clothing. 

As a result, the owner of Neir’s, Loycent Gordon, was forced to find additional space at an Irish pub, Geordies Joint, located at 79-19 Jamaica Ave.  

“There’s a Christmas miracle you have granted this weekend. Thank you to all of you! And to Assembly member-elect Jenifer Rajkumar for helping to bring more resources together for the 48 families,” Neirs Tavern wrote on Twitter. 

Using community networks and social media, Rajkumar’s office was able to track down several of the victims and communicate with them individually in Punjabi, Bengali and Spanish to assess their needs. 

Her office also serves as the primary  community liaison to the Red Cross, which is temporarily housing the victims. 

Photo courtesy of Jenifer Rajkumar

Later this week, the afflicted families will come to Rajkumar’s office to pick up the donated supplies they need. They will also be served meals by local small businesses. 

“As a newly elected Assembly Member I am glad to be there for my constituents at their time of need, and grateful to the entire community for coming together to support them,” Rajkumar said.

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