Zachary Crockett was riding his bike when he saw the flames coming from the building at Mission and 22nd street. He felt compelled to do something, and immediately set up a Gofundme campaign, hoping to raise $2,000. A few weeks later the fund had raised about $180,000, and Thursday evening, the residents displaced by the horrific fire were finally able to collect the funds long promised to them.
Crockett and the Mission Economic Development Agency held a meeting last night at the Salvation Army, where the displaced tenants had been temporarily housed. They returned to their former shelter to accept checks with donations from the community. After GoFundMe took its fees the fund had more than $160,000 to distribute. Although no one would say the exact amount they received, each of the 18 units got a base amount and then more depending on other factors including the age of the tenants and the number of children.
“I had the privilege of meeting some of you and hear your stories, but I know some of you still wonder who the heck I am,” said Crockett, who has also written about the families.
About 30 residents gathered in the shelter’s dining room and waited for their names to be called.
The first called were Milagros Ramírez, Marta Medrano and Sandra Corso. The three are still in the process of relocating, but said they were glad to see there are people with the intention to help them.
“This is fantastic. We weren’t counting on the extra money they gave us. We are going to buy the basic stuff for our new home. Remember we are buying everything from a salt shaker to a bed,” said Corso of the check she received. She will share with her two cousins.
“They gave us the check. They treated us very well,” said Medrano, who expects to return to her former unit, 302, with her aunt, Corso. “I think I am going to buy the most basic stuff –a bed, clothes, a television, food,” she said.
Lilian Martínez, from unit 319, said she “is curious to open the envelope” she received. “I think I am going to save it and use it to pay rent,” she said. Martínez was relocated to Treasure Island last Friday. “It’s nice, there’s a very nice view and I feel peace when I am there,” she said of finally being able to have her personal space to rest.
Juan Alberto Lara, from unit 305, is 65, retired and in a good mood. Lara has managed to find a place in the Mission with a long time friend, where he will remain until he can return to the building.
Lara’s hope to return to the building was bolstered when Gabriel Medina, MEDA’s Policy Manager, announced the nonprofit’s desire to buy the building. “It would be so amazing that they could buy the building,” he said, smiling.
As for the fund, he will use the money for his basic needs –rent, food, clothes. “I am thankful that I am alive and little by little everything will fit into place,” he said.
Jorge Flores, who was hospitalized until last week with third degree burns to his arms, hands and face, was nonetheless able to attend the meeting at the Salvation Army.
Flores was having dinner, courtesy of Tartine and Bi-Rite, with his wife and his son Gio. His son said he was happy to see Flores out of the hospital. The family will buy beds, computers and other equipment with their funding. The Flores family is musically inclined and had invested more than $30,000 in DJ equipment and computers, which were lost in the fire. Nonetheless, Flores is grateful for what was spared.
“I am alive. I can work and I can buy stuff again,“ he said. I like music too much and I am going to do it again,” he said.
Yanira Sanchez was uncertain that she was going to receive any money, given her status as a subtenant, but she too received a check.
“I am going to send some money my mom in El Salvador, because she doesn’t work and is a senior. The rest, I am going to use to buy things I need and also save for emergencies,” said Sanchez, who has been relocated to Treasure Island.
Crockett and MEDA distributed the money according to a formula that allots additional money to a family’s base amount to account for subtenants, children, seniors, and single mothers.
“It was mathematically structured, calculated and fair across the board. Everything was uniform,” said Crockett.
According to Crockett, about 15 of 27 checks were handed out last night, but he and MEDA will continue to reach out to families who were not present at the meeting.
“Tonight has been incredibly rewarding for me,” Crockett said. I am glad to have come through with the promise I made that the money would go directly to the families.”