Almost five months after a devastating fire ripped through Langley City’s Paddington Station apartments, the building’s strata is proud — and a bit overwhelmed — to announce that $250,000 has been donated to them by the community.
Thanks to individuals, businesses, churches and non-profit organizations, the more than 100 people who were displaced by the disaster have had a little more cushioned fall, particularly those who had no insurance, said Donna Francis, strata council president.
“As recent as last week, they were getting cheques in the mail,” she said.
“People are getting whatever they need and they are just so incredibly thankful.”
Before the Dec. 11 fire at 5650 201A St. had even been put out, the generosity began.
Residents of an apartment building across the street were the first to open their doors to the stranded residents standing outside in the cold. Not long after, Save On Foods was on scene with water and oranges, NY Grill came outside with wraps and sandwiches, and those who fled their homes without jackets were cloaked in blankets purchased by a total stranger.
Then came the Langley Emergency team, led by Ginger Sherlock, who organized the residents at the Douglas Recreation Centre for the night.
“It felt like they were rolling out a red carpet for a really black, dark experience,” Francis said.
“I looked back and I said, what’s going on? I didn’t get it. It didn’t stop.”
Several community groups stepped up, including South Gate Church, which quickly organized a holiday dinner and gift card package.
And with just one week to plan, Langley musician Karen Lee Batten pulled together a major concert — Giving Back Christmas to Paddington Station — that raised $56,500, and then spent her Christmas doing all of the administration to ensure the donations got to the residents.
“That’s the power of giving and receiving because I honest to God couldn’t believe how she was able to put that together,” Francis said.
“And then the generosity didn’t stop. Strangers were basically contacting us and saying, ‘I want to give.’”
A local artist, Jodi Hartley, created a sign as a silent auction item for the concert that Francis believes “speaks brilliantly” to the situation.
The sign reads: “The pain of yesterday is the strength of today. Tragedy in the Paddington Station fire and triumph in the community response. Langley and the surrounding cities coming together to help those in need. Healing and moving forward with hope.”
That artwork will be hung back in 5650, once the rebuilding is complete in 18 months.
“I think the power in this is, ‘triumph in the community response,’” Francis said.
“Strangely, because of the fire, so many people are grateful to each other and so many people are reaching out to each other, that the dynamic really changed here,” added Donna Moore, a strata council member. “And it really changed our neighbours, how we felt about our neighbours and probably how our neighbours felt about us.
“I can tell you that this was a quiet building in the way of familiarity. You’d walk through here and people would just sort of walk by and they’d do their thing. Instead, people would see their neighbour and they would go over and hug them.
“It brought the best out of everybody. I think people who didn’t even know they would react that like, reacted like that.”
A Paddington Fire Exchange Facebook page was created, where donors could connect directly with residents, and a bank account was set up with Westminster Savings.
Donations began to pour in, and much to the strata council’s surprise, it got even bigger.
The development community came together and raised thousands of dollars for those who had no insurance.
Of the 86 units that were affected, 70 per cent of them were rental. And of those renters, 80 per cent were not insured. One owner who purchased his unit nine days before the fire, had yet to get insurance for it.
With all of money coming in, the strata council soon had a new problem: administration. That’s where Church in the Valley stepped in. Pastor David Jamieson volunteered to help them track and disperse the donations correctly.
“If it wasn’t for them, I think it would have just been a really challenging moment for us. But that was the solution, and it was an incredible solution, because what they did is they heard the donors and the donors said, ‘We want the majority of these funds to go towards the uninsured,’” Francis said.
“I was amazed. Tears were coming out of your eyes all the time,” added Moore. “We would text each other, ‘You won’t believe what just happened.’”
Feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, the strata began giving thank yous out via the Paddington Fire Exchange Facebook page to all who helped. Their goal is to reach 5,650 likes on the page to symbolize the loss of their building, 5650.
The children in the building have also created a special card to say thank you to the Langley City fire department.
“Padda is the root word of Paddington, and it means the estate of,” said Francis. “It’s almost as if this became the estate of the community, because I found that the community (members) were the ones who were stepping in and taking care of this place, Paddington.”