Sort-a-thon a marathon

Volunteers sort through the mound of donations dropped off at the New Westminster Salvation Army for victims of Friday
Volunteers sort through the mound of donations dropped off at the New Westminster Salvation Army for victims of Friday's fire that destroyed an apartment complex at Fourth Avenue and Ash Street.
— image credit: Photo contributed/Salvation Army

The generous donations of clothing and household goods in support of the victims of the Jan. 31 blaze that wiped out a New Westminster apartment building were so plentiful a "fire sale" will be needed to get rid of it all.

Thirty-six residents of 31 units in the building on Ash Street at Fourth Avenue lost all their belongings in the blaze. Donation drop-off spots were quickly set up at the Salvation Army, Shiloh Sixth Avenue United and St. Barnabas Anglican church.

"It was huge, it was massive," said St. Barnabas organizer Lisa Girardi of all the donations the churches took in.

Girardi counted about 350 garbage bags full of donations that were put into a five-ton van for safe storage, and she's still got a 20x15 foot room full of stuff leftover. And that's just at St. Barnabas. For example, the volunteers counted 45 microwaves. Some donated brand new and near new dish sets along with pots and pans. The BC Blanket Society donated 300 blankets. There was even a belly-dancer's scarf with coins dangling from it. There was certainly more than enough to cover the needs of the residents who will give first pick of the goods once they are settled in to new housing.

"There were only 36 people living there. We have enough for 436 people," said Girardi. "We are going to have a fire sale for all the stuff we have left because we have tons left."

That St. Barnabas sale will be held at the church, 1010 Fifth Ave., Feb. 22 starting at 9 a.m., and Girardi recommends buyers bring their own bags. The proceeds will be donated to the fund set up to support the fire's victims.

The building's insurers have also donated $10,000 to the fund. Reliance Insurance Agencies, the building's insurance broker, and Intact Insurance Company have each chipped in $5,000.

Reliance spokesman Jim Ball said having all units lost in a fire is extremely rare. The owner of the building is a 77-year-old widow who lives a few blocks away and spent every day at the building and knew all of her tenants. She's owned the building for 38 years, and has kept her insurance up-to-date.

"There aren't that many total loss fires, there are often fires that affect two or three suites in an apartment building," said Ball. "The donation was primarily was the uniqueness of the building and the landlord's relationship with the tenants. She was loyal to us as she was to her tenants, she had been with us for 25 years. So when I went to the insurance company and said we're going to donate $5,000 [they were willing to match it.]"

Ball said the owner was insured for a replacement cost of $4.5 million and intends to rebuild. He added all indications are the amount should cover replacing it, and that Reliance and Intact are expediting the process of rebuilding to make it ready for occupancy as soon as possible.

He pointed out the owner returned all of her damage deposits and advance rent back to her tenants.

"That's the kind of lady she is. We don't have many customers like that."

Although the owner had insurance, none of the building's occupants did. Ball said Intact, through Reliance, will offer free tenant insurance for one year to any of the victims who decide to move back into the building when it's rebuilt.

He said the fire serves as a wakeup call for all tenants to have their own insurance saying it only costs about $400 a year, a little more than a dollar a day.

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