North Bergen officials were still coordinating relief and relocation efforts at the end of the week for the victims of a five-alarm blaze on Saturday evening, Sept. 28, at 9201 Kennedy Blvd.
All of the 50-unit structure was affected, 100 residents were displaced. None were reported injured. The blaze sent two firefighters to the hospital.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco was working closely with the North Bergen Health Department, North Hudson Community Action Corporation, Red Cross, and several local community groups and volunteers to organize food and clothing drives, provide short term housing for displaced residents, and help victims find options for relocation.
Sacco stayed with fire victims at a shelter set up at North Bergen High School until nearly 4 a.m. Sunday while the blaze was being fought.
“We are now working to help these victims in the short term by providing food, clothing and shelter and to help them sort through options for long term relocation in the wake of this tragedy,” said Mayor Sacco last week. “Our hope is that we will help as many of them as possible find housing as soon as we can.”
“ … As neighbors we have a responsibility to care for each other and help each other in times of need.” – Larry Wainstein
Citizens group responds
The call for supplies by various organizations for the fire victims was quick.
By 11 a.m. on Monday, the North Bergen Concerned Citizens Group was already spearheading a drive to help. The organization was collecting clothing, water, non-perishable food items and regular household and personal items such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste, feminine products, formula, and diapers. They were asking that the donations be dropped off at Tonnelle Wine & Liquors, 8516 Tonnelle Ave., from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., from Monday through Friday.
“I see North Bergen as a community of neighbors, and as neighbors we have a responsibility to care for each other and help each other in times of need,” said Larry Wainstein of the group. “Just in the past few years, we have found ourselves at the forefront of several natural disasters, and now the fire. All of which have left several of our neighbors in varying states of desperation.”
Donations and places to live
North Bergen Volunteer Relief Coordinator Aimee Focaraccio was managing a food and clothing drive to aid victims at Our Lady of Fatima Church, where many of them congregated during the days after the fire.
“Anyone who wishes to help can drop off non-perishable food, clothing or toiletries to the church, which is located at 8011 Kennedy Boulevard in North Bergen,” she said.
The North Bergen Board of Education said it would conduct its own clothing drive and the North Bergen Federation of Teachers was asking students to participate in a dress down day fundraiser to aid victims. The Board was also providing two free school uniforms for any student whose uniforms were destroyed.
“A relief fund has also been established to help victims through the North Bergen Health Department and anyone interested in making a donation can contact the department at (201) 392-2084,” said township spokesman Philip Swibinski.
The township is also committed to helping the building’s residents with long term relocation, according to Swibinski.
“Mayor Sacco is working with North Hudson Community Action, the North Bergen Housing Authority and local Realtors to identify available housing units in the area and direct displaced families to them,” he said.
Fire cause still undetermined
As of Wednesday, Oct. 2, the fire’s cause was still undetermined.
“The township has issued a formal notice to the building’s owner declaring its intention to condemn the property because of the extensive damage that it sustained,” Swibinski said. The owner has the right to appeal the decision if a structural engineer determines that it is sound.
The fire had started at 5:12 p.m., with the fire department notified via a 911 call.
Approximately 100 firefighters responded in about 30 vehicles, according to a fire official.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.