When an arsonist destroyed the Lafayette-Barton Apartments on the West Side of Buffalo in March, all 36 units were damaged, leaving about 90 people, many of them resettled refugees and immigrants, without a home.
Two young women decided to take action.
Laila Ismail, whose family members were displaced by the fire, set up a gofundme.com account the following night to help the victims.
Ismail lost her home in a fire in Buffalo about 15 years ago when she was 12. She remembered how the community came together to help her family, and she wanted to do the same for these victims.
“I know exactly what they’re going through,” she said.
Throughout this year, when tragedy struck and lives were turned upside down, Western New Yorkers rallied to do whatever they could to help. They delivered dinners every night to the family of a Grand Island woman seriously injured by a hit-and-run motorist. They welcomed dozens of families driven to Buffalo from their homes in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. And they raised more than $90,000 for the family of a Buffalo Police officer who died in a tragic diving accident.
Within minutes of setting up the gofundme, her friend Juweria Dahir, whose family was routed by the Lafayette fire, contacted her, and the two began planning a donation drive. They worked with friends to set up shareable Google forms to connect donors with volunteers willing to pick up and sort items.
By the following weekend, they had more than 50 volunteers helping, and mountains of clothing, shoes, toys, toiletries, bedding and household goods to restock the victims’ homes. HEAL International, West Side Community Services and Jericho Road Community Health Center all got involved to help.
In a community room at Jericho Road on Barton Street, the fire victims were given the chance to pick out what they needed. Among them was Aisha Abdulle who lost nearly everything in the fire. She was at work when the fire broke out and was grateful that her husband and two young children escaped unhurt.
“When something like this happens, you’re heartbroken. You’re in pieces,” she told The Buffalo News in March. “You just need someone to say: It’s going to be OK. It’s going to get better. That’s what the community has done. Through prayers. Through donations.”
So many items were collected for the event that the rest was donated to other low-income people on the West Side. And six weeks later, $45,000 in donations was distributed to the fire victims.
"It was really nice to see people come together," Dahir said.