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Outpouring of support from UFT members for Bronx fire victims

New York Teacher
two women collect clothes
Jonathan Fickies

Susan Perez (left), the UFT’s Victim Support Program coordinator in the Bronx, helps a community member select a bag of groceries at MS 391 on Feb. 7.

When a disaster strikes public school families, UFT members come together to help. The deadly apartment building fire on Jan. 9 in the Bronx was no exception.

UFT members immediately sprang into action, raising more than $10,000 and collecting and distributing supplies to help the affected families. The blaze killed at least 17 people, including eight children, injured 60 others and displaced even more.

UFT members at PS 85 in the Bronx were shocked to learn that four former students died in the fire and 23 current students and their families were displaced. Between grieving their losses and caring for their displaced students, members at the school quickly put together an Amazon registry for the families. First, they listed essentials like clothing and toiletries. Then they added toys.

“We were thinking of them staying in hotels, not having anything to do,” said Lindsay Moss, a 3rd-grade teacher at the school.

The registry went up on Jan. 13, and by Jan. 18, every item had been purchased. “Everyone just wanted to know how they could help,” said Moss.

Other Bronx schools affected by the fire — PS 9, JHS 118, MS 391, MS 447 and PS/MS 279 — organized similar drives. Piling up in school hallways and offices were donations including winter coats and other clothing, shoes, toiletries, baby formula and microwavable containers for families living without kitchens.

UFT members in District 10 worked with their district representative, Marcus Escobar, and staff members in the UFT Bronx borough office to create distribution hubs.

The biggest challenge, Escobar said, was managing the sheer volume of donations. “There were more supplies than one school could hold onto,” he said.

UFT members citywide donated more than $10,000 to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund to help families affected by the fire. The sum, which continues to grow, will be distributed directly to the families and to foundations set up by Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and Meisha Ross Porter, the former schools chancellor.

“Our educators from across the city have donated,” said UFT Vice President Karen Alford, who heads the UFT Disaster Relief Fund.

She said members who sent money, supplies and well wishes were “deeply concerned” about the residents and wanted to “provide support through such a difficult time.”