Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fire Destroys 521 Woodlawn

On Tuesday of last week, fire destroyed the house at 521 Woodlawn in Saint Augustine, a house that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film. This was the home of Helen, her son Christoff, and grandaughter Precious, all of whom appear in the film. It was also home to grandson Quinton and grandaughter Tip. Helen had lived in the house for nearly thirty years.

The fire started in the wood stove that you see being lit in the movie. Anyone who, when viewing that scene, thought to themselves--That thing is a fire hazard--was sadly correct. Indeed, the incident raises a lot of questions about the safety of housing conditions for those who have very little money to spend after paying for food, water, electricity, and taxes.

(Here is a link to the local newspaper story. In the story Helen is referred to as Mary--Helen is her middle name and the name she prefers. Also, the copy editor changed Tip to a young man, an error for which the reporter has already apologized--nobody who has actually met Tip would make that mistake.)

Fortunately, very fortunately, nobody was injured in the fire, but Helen and her family lost all their belongings and the roof over their heads. Helen has been very strong through the shock and stress of this calamity but she is going to need a lot of help. Here at Dare Not Walk Alone we feel a special connection with Helen and her family so we are coordinating the response. So far we have managed to get:

  • Temporary accommodation at a motel in Saint Augustine through the end of this week;
  • A storage locker for all of the donations of clothes and household goods that people so generously donated at the St. Augustine Record office;
  • Donations moved to the storage locker (thanks to Gardner, Doug, and Chris);
  • A relay of evening meals delivered to the motel this week (thanks to Gardner's congregation);
  • A volunteer to find further accommodation until a subsidized apartment becomes available in about three weeks (thanks to Debbie);
  • A place for people to send cash donations that will be used first for temporary housing and then for the construction of a new house at 521 (thanks to Putnam State Bank);
Checks should be made out to "Dare Not Walk Alone" with the notation "Coley Family/#5367" in the Memo field and mailed to:

Putnam State Bank
Attention: Angela
2300 N Ponce de Leon Blvd
St. Augustine, FL 32084

(If you want further information about these instructions you can call Angela, the Branch Manager's Assistant, at 904-825-4555.) We will make sure that all of the funds received go directly to the family, and to the effort, just getting under way, to build them a new home at 521 Woodlawn.

One of the main goals of the "Dare Not Walk Alone" project has always been to help those members of Saint Augustine's African American community who are most in need. We had no idea that, for one family, those needs would become so urgent so soon. But we are hopeful that this sad event will become a rallying point for those who share that goal. So, we thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide and we will update you as this effort progresses. We will also try to find time to blog some of the things we are learning from this event, like the community's lack of coordination in the delivery social services, the charity of strangers, and hopeful steps that can be taken down the long road to lasting reconciliation.

Dare Not Walk Alone
Jeremy Dean, Director
Richard Mergener, Producer
Stephen and Chey Cobb, Executive Producers

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