It was nearly 10 p.m. one night in late March when a raging fire ripped through five apartment buildings on Dekalb Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
As the emergency was still unfolding, the American Red Cross arrived on scene to address the urgent needs of approximately 100 residents left homeless. In the hours and days that followed, Red Cross teams registered 35 families, providing those who needed it with humanitarian support including temporary housing.
“Without the Red Cross, we would have been out on the street,” said Elelmira Vargas, who lived in one of the apartments damaged by the blaze with her eight-year-old son and elderly parents.
As it turned out, this was the second time in six years that disaster forced the Vargas family from their home. The first of these two improbable events occurred in 2010 when a fire destroyed their apartment of 13 years.
“The Red Cross helped us then, you have no idea, it was amazing” recalled Vargas.
The Vargas family had lived in their second Bushwick home for four years. Just as they had begun to recover from the pain of losing their first home, the second fire uprooted them once again.
Vargas recalls being at work that tragic March evening when her brother unexpectedly showed up in a panic.
“It was terrible, really terrible,” she said. “They wouldn’t let anyone near the building.”
Vargas spent the first night with her brother, who lives several blocks from their building. The next morning, she made her way to the Red Cross, knowing she could find some peace of mind. At the office, she met Lilliam Rivera-Cruz. Lilliam, a longtime caseworker for the Greater New York Red Cross, offered the family temporary housing and financial assistance for basic necessities.
“She’s really great,” Vargas said of Lilliam. “I’m really happy to find people like her. She’s very patient and she helped us a lot. I always see that the Red Cross is trying to help people.”
Approximately 20 Red Cross volunteers were on scene during and after the Bushwick fire, helping people like Vargas get back on their feet. Along with housing, the Red Cross provided emergency financial assistance, blankets, hygiene supplies, diapers and fire clean-up kits.
After the fire, Vargas said she was thankful the Red Cross was able to house her family together. Not having to worry about where her son was going to sleep took a huge weight off her shoulders.
"It's not easy. This is the second time. It's not easy,” said Vargas. “But I have you guys [the Red Cross]. This is a really hard situation, but when you have people who can help, it makes a big difference."