Urgent need: Families displaced by Richmond Hill, Queens catastrophic fire need permanent housing, and quickly

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Site of the Dec. 10, 2020 fire in Richmond Hill which destroyed several homes and left close to 50 people, mostly of Indian, Caribbean and South Asian origin, homeless with all belongings destroyed. Photo courtesy: Rose Kaur from the office of Assemblywoman-elect Jenifer Rajkumar.

A team of Queens community leaders jumped into action as soon as news  broke about the fire that burned through multiple Richmond Hill homes at 109-25 Jamaica Avenue early morning,  December 10, 2020. Most of the families affected were of Indian and Indo-Caribbean origin, and those hailing from other South Asian countries, as well as some Hispanic families.

But even as donations to support for the families grow, big questions remain especially on finding permanent housing for families who have lost everything, organizers told Desi Talk.

The fire left a total of 48 Richmond Hill  residents, 33 adults and 15 children, without a home or belongings, according to a press release from organizers of the drive.

On Dec. 14, a team of community volunteers seen loading the supplies meant for victims of Dec.10,2020 fire in Richmond Hill, Queens that destroyed several homes. Photo courtesy: Office of New York Assemblywoman-elect Jenifer Rajkumar

The effort launched by a coalition of numerous organizations is an example of how the South Asian community can come together in a crisis, organizers note.

Assemblywoman-elect Jenifer Rajkumar and Romeo Hitlall of  the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club convened a meeting of South Queens’ all-star team of leaders through zoom, and the group swung into action.

“I spoke to many of the victims one-by-one,” Rajkumar told Desi Talk. “The families lost everything. Many of them are in complete shock. The community support has been overwhelming.” Using community networks and social media, Rajkumar’s  office was able to track down several of the victims and  communicate with them individually in Punjabi, Bengali and  Spanish to assess their needs.

Donations flooded in from all around New York to support families left homeless by the Dec. 10, 2020, fire in Richmond Hill, Queens, which destroyed several homes. Photo: courtesy Office of New York Assemblywoman-elect Jenifer Rajkumar.

The Red Cross is currently housing those affected in surrounding hotels, including Motel 8, but only till the end of this week, said Rajkumar who is the community liaison for the Red Cross.

Hitlall, who is also with the Federation of Hindu Mandirs, told Desi Talk there were no major problems in dealing with the immediate help, but the next big issue was finding  permanent housing.

“We have some 25 to 30 organizations involved in the effort, and we have reached out to people who have some properties to see if they have vacancies,” Hitlall said, adding, “Overall, it is a very sad situation. They lost everything.”

Assemblywoman-elect Rajkumar put out a request for donated  items, and a GoFundMe Page was established and shared widely.  Her office which will close come Jan. 1, 2021, when she moves to Albany, was soon flooded with calls by residents from all over  New York State, followed by a flood of donations, gift cards,  clothes, food, and other items.

Both Rajkumar’s  transition office, and Neirs Tavern were set up as drop off  locations. In a matter of few days, Neirs was filled almost to capacity with supplies of food and clothing, and the owner of the establishment, Loycent Gordon, was forced to  find additional space next door.

Shanaz Hussain of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club drops off supplies at Neirs Tavern to help families affected by the Dec. 10, 2020 that destroyed several homes. Neirs owner Loycent Gordon (left) collects the goods. Photo courtesy office of New York Assemblywoman-elect Jenifer Rajkumar.

Organizers recommend donations of gift cards as these appear to be more useful to  the families. Donors may also donate through the GoFundMe page  at: https://rb.gy/tzdk3f

Later this week, the afflicted families will come to Rajkumar’s  office to pick up the donated supplies they need. They will also be  served meals by local small businesses, Rajkumar said.

The community leaders and groups who are a part of this effort  include:

Assemblywoman-elect Jenifer Rajkumar, Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park  Lions Club, Senator Addabbo, Senator Sanders, Richmond Hill Block Association, Woodhaven Residents Block Association, Kiwanis Club of  Ridgewood, NYC Desi Corrections, District Leader Richard David, District  Leader Mufazzal Hossain, International Concept for Democracy, South Queens Women’s March, Jahajee Sisters, CB9 Kenichi Wilson, Queens  Borough President Donovan Richards, Rhonda Binda, New American  Voters Association, CB9 Sherry Algredo, Glendale Civic Association,  Simca Weisman, Nick Tomeo, Robert Joseph, Joe Caruana, Omni Mortgage’s  Herman Singh, Our Neighbors Civic Assoc of Ozone Park, This is Woodhaven, All Purpose Electric Corp, Abee Chunes Radio, Herman Singh  Radio 540AM, United Madrassi Association, Cherish Every Child, Neirs Tavern.

For more information contact Rajkumar’s office: JRK4NY@gmail.com,  917.690.0891

President of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club,  Romeo Hitlall: romeohitlall@gmail.com,

917-749-7700

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