As Tri-Citians make plans to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, a community organization is giving thanks for the outpouring of support and kindness it saw after a fire burned some domestic violence victims out of their homes.
Almost three months ago, a blaze damaged a Kennewick four-plex used as transitional housing by Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties. The families who lived at 6702 W. First Ave. were just getting their lives back together and were faced with the daunting task of starting over -- yet again.
But, donations of money, household goods, gift cards and more from the community helped make that transition a little bit easier, said Dan Aspiri, executive director for the nonprofit.
"What I kept hearing from families is it brought huge, really warm feelings to them when they realized there were people in our community who cared enough to give to them," Aspiri told the Herald. "It wasn't just us, as an organization, but there were a lot of people in the community willing to help them.
"It brought tears to them, knowing there were families out there willing to help their family."
All four units were occupied at the time of the Aug. 27 fire, which likely was started by cigarettes left smoldering in a coffee can used as an ashtray. Flames spread from the outside of a first-floor unit to a second unit above.
Everyone got out safely, after an outside smoke alarm alerted a resident, who then banged on all the doors, waking up her neighbors as flames started to break through the sliding glass door in a second-floor apartment.
Two units were occupied by domestic violence victims and their families, while the other two units were being used by Elijah Family Homes, which provides transitional housing for people recovering from drug addiction.
The first- and second-floor units on the west side of the building were destroyed, Aspiri said. Everything had to be removed down to the studs and now is in the process of being rebuilt.
The other two units sustained smoke and some water damage, but not nearly as extensive as officials first feared. Total fire damage is estimated at $250,000 to $290,000, Aspiri said.
Repairs now are under way and crews are getting ready to put the roof back on, he said. Then they will focus on getting work done inside the units. Officials are hoping to be able to get tenants back in the units by April.
All the families at the four-plex have found other homes, he said. And, if there's a silver lining to the fire, Aspiri said, it's that the families now are in homes where they could possibly stay permanently.
"It's in some ways a progression for them, moving from a transitional housing into, for lack of a better word, a more independent setting," he said.
There is a two-year limit on the transitional housing provided by Domestic Violence Services.
All the donations that came into the domestic violence group that were targeted for fire victims went to the families, Aspiri said. One mother even was able to save some of the donated money so she could get some Christmas gifts for her kids, he said.
"There was enough help for her to get the basics ... and she asked if it was OK. We said, 'It's yours. You decide how to use it,' " Aspiri said. "It's going to really help the next really huge, difficult time for her -- Christmas. It was a real nice, nice gift from the community."
Aspiri said he can't say enough about how the community stepped up to help after the fire.
"We have an incredible community," he said. "They really came together for us ... ."
Domestic Violence Services supports domestic violence victims all year, and Aspiri said the group can always use support from the community, especially this time of the year with the holidays.
Donations can be made by calling the office at 735-1295 or by going online to dvsbf.org to make cash donations or view a wish of needed items.
Sometimes the simplest donations, like a gift card so someone can get a tank of gas for their car, can make the biggest impact, Aspiri said.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org