Hope in the ashes: Garrison community continues support for families affected by warehouse fire
November 29, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- It has been five weeks since a warehouse fire destroyed the household goods of more than 120 families in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Oct. 30, and while the shock has worn off, the support continues.
Garrison leaders and organizations demonstrated their commitment to providing continuous service for affected families during a second town hall meeting held in response to the fire Nov. 16 in the Panzer Chapel.
"There are a lot of things -ACS, Red Cross, DOL, temporary furniture - [the garrison] has made available, and I want to make sure that you have a good understanding of what's out there," said USAG Stuttgart Commander Col. Carl D. Bird, during the meeting.
Community leaders also discussed the way ahead for the families, pointing out the flowers of hope blooming amidst the ashes of tragedy.
Trained salvage inspectors began sifting through the wreckage Nov. 12 in hopes of retrieving items that can be cleaned and decontaminated, according to William Crane, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobility and Security director. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"These folks in masks [who] are picking through this - they'll do the best they can for you," Crane said.
In the meantime, he advised families to take advantage of the many services that can help them put their homes back together - and overwhelming support from volunteers - as many have already done.
More than $21,000 was collected for the affected families during garrison worship services Nov. 6-7 - the largest designated offering ever collected in the community, according to USAG Stuttgart Deputy Community Chaplain Lt. Col. Ken Bellinger. The money was deposited into the Stuttgart Community Spouses Club's emergency relief fund and will be distributed by the garrison Religious Support Office on an as-needed basis.
In the weeks following the fire, Army Community Service contacted a majority of the affected families, many of which took a needs assessment survey, said Gina Starrett, ACS Family Assistance Center coordinator.
In response to the survey, the ACS lending closet purchased additional kitchen sets and appliances. The SCSC also provided $50 vouchers to the families so they could buy other necessities at the Patch Thrift Shop.
Additionally, the American Red Cross Stuttgart provided grants for winter wear and linens to 60 families and the United Service Organizations provided Thanksgiving meals to 52 families through the Thanks for Thanksgiving program. The USO also transported several families to the Ramstein Base Exchange to shop for furniture Nov. 19.
In order to continue matching services with needs, Starrett requested that those families who have not taken the ACS needs survey, to do so.
"We're here for you," she said. "We will do everything we can to lessen some of the burden during this terrible time for you."
Likewise, community members have been volunteering to help affected families.
Trey Kinney, a family member affected by the fire, visited the Patch Thrift Shop with his family to pick up some needed items, but when he saw the amount of donated goods, he decided to volunteer. "When I saw how much stuff we had, I was like, 'I want to help,'" he said.
Acting as a distribution point, the Patch Thrift Shop filled two rooms by Nov. 16 with clothing, appliances and household items donated for the affected families, and had to stop accepting donations.
During a community flea market Nov. 20, volunteers also organized a room in the Patch Community Club with hundreds of free items donated for the families.
Other families found comfort in the help they received while going through the claims process.
So far, 33 families have filed claims with their transportation service providers, with help from Stuttgart Law Center personnel, according to Capt. Jason McKenna, claims and administrative law attorney at the SLC. Of those families, nine have been paid in full, he said.
"We've seen folks who have been paid already - just on their inventory forms," McKenna added.
Dale Leifson, a civilian who lost his household goods in the fire, said his appointment at the claims office went a long way toward helping him start the recovery process. "Being able to talk with a JAG [judge advocate] really helped a lot," he said. "They were able to specify exactly what's going to happen.
"With everything else that happened, that was a good experience."
Leifson and his wife also visited the housing office and made arrangements for temporary furniture.
The majority of families have been contacted by the Housing Office regarding loaner furniture, according to Housing Office Chief Iris Jones.
In addition to dealing with logistics, families affected by the fire are also trying to prepare for the holidays. To assist them, the community will host a holiday party for the families, called "Jingle Bell Bash."
The party is set for Dec. 5 in the Panzer Firehouse from 1-4 p.m. and will include a visit from Santa - who will deliver new toys to the children - and free family portraits.
With all of these services available, Chaplain Bellinger, who also lost his household goods, advised families to manage their money well and avoid new debt.
"Be intentional," he said. "Don't add to your pain and suffering in the long term for the choices made [today]."
He also told them that, while garrison organizations can help them take care of the paperwork involved in recovery, they need to make sure their internal needs are met as well.
"This is an event that happened on a calendar date, but we keep reliving it and rediscovering it on a daily basis," he said. "It's important to pay attention to the essentials - the basics in life. Make healthy choices. Take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, physically."