Photo: Peter Gill. Ajifanta Marenah, civic education and advocacy program coordinator at Muslim Community Network, explained how funds were distributed.

Non-profit distributes relief, but Bronx fire victims still need homes

Bronxites left homeless by the January fire in the Bronx’s Tremont section received much-needed relief from The Muslim Community Network on Friday. The recipients expressed gratitude to the non-profit but also questioned how other public and private institutions are using relief funds collected on their behalf.

The  Jan. 9 fire at the Twin Parks building killed 17 people, including eight children, the youngest just two years old. More than 100 families were displaced, and although some have been able to return to their apartments, many are still staying in shelter-hotels with support from city agencies. 

The Muslim Community Network distributed between $800 and $4,000 to each affected family, depending on the size of the household and whether or not they lost loved ones.

Separately, the mayor’s office raised several million dollars through a special fund, only a fraction of which has been distributed to victims so far. Various other groups have raised funds online, although it is unclear how that money was spent.  

“It brings joy to know that there are still loving people out there,” said Queen Chanaisha, who lost her home in the fire, during the fund distribution event at Angelo Patri Middle School. “People who don’t have to do it, they are helping us. But the people who actually need to help us, they’re not doing what they need to do.”

The Muslim Charity Network has provided meals and other support for the fire victims since day one, and raised $246,000 through crowdfunding, according to board member Dr. Debbie Almontaser.  The $43,500 that the organization still has on hand for survivors after Friday’s distribution, will go towards continuing needs like mental health wellness and field trips for kids, said Aniqa Nawabi, its director.

Other non-profits and community groups like South Bronx Mutual Aid, The Gambian Youth Organization, and BronxWorks have also organized in support of the victims. The hip-hop artist Cardi B paid for the funerals of the 17 who died.

Ariadna Phillips, an organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid, called on the Mayor’s Office to be more transparent with its funds.

“There is a mayor’s fund with an undisclosed amount of money, and families have received one distribution per household of $2,250. That doesn’t come close to what we understand is potentially the value of the fund,” she said.

Various news outlets previously reported that the mayor’s fund has $2.5 million. The mayor’s fund has so far disclosed that it has distributed $265,500 through gift cards to the victims so far.

The Mott Haven Herald and Hunts Point Express reached out to the Mayor’s Office for comment but has not yet received a response.

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and members of the City Council’s Bronx Task Force on Fire Safety were invited, but did not attend Friday’s event.

One victim, Walter Williams, Jr., expressed gratitude to fire fighters who saved him and his daughter from their 6th floor apartment, and is eager for the city to move them into a new home quickly.

“The hotel’s very crampy,  I’m claustrophobic,” he said.

Many of the victims and survivors were originally from The Gambia.

Suleiman Touré, who lost four extended family members in the fire, said his father Abdoulaye Bashir was one of the first Gambians to move into the building on 181st Street.

Touré said his family needs temporary housing but should be allowed to return to their old building once repairs are complete.  The building is close to a Gambian mosque on Webster Avenue, which is important for daily prayers and community gatherings like weddings, babies’ naming ceremonies, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. 

“We are very grateful to the American community and to The Bronx community for the love, empathy and care,” he said.

Chanaisha said, “My birthday is coming up soon.  And for my birthday, I would like for all of my friends and family to have homes.”

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