Since the Nov. 9 fire at the Berkshires of Matthews apartments, area residents have overwhelmed displaced families with donations of basic necessities.
The effort has been so great, in fact, that one collection point for toiletries, clothing and more is now closed. Fire victims say they’re overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers and it gives them hope as they recover and rebuild.
Matthews Fire & EMS were called to the apartment complex, 1701 Chambers Drive, at about 8:30 p.m. Nov. 9 where officials say a resident cooking French fries on the stove started a grease fire. The fire caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage. There are no sprinklers in the building, Matthews Fire Chief Dennis Green said.
Two residents, a male and a female, were taken to Carolinas Medical Center-Main in Charlotte with serious injuries after firefighters witnessed them jumping from a third floor balcony shortly after they arrived. The man landed in a pile of debris that was on fire, according to a fire report.
The Matthews Police Department was collecting items for the residents but stopped this week after several truckloads of supplies had been delivered to the complex. All 23 apartments inside the building were affected and of those 11 residents, seven men and four women ranging in age from early teens to late 50s, lost nearly everything. Four teens, 17 and 15-year-old boys and 17 and 16-year-old girls, attend Butler High School which is adjacent to the complex.
“From clothing donations to furniture to gift cards, (the residents) have received so much support,” Cpl. Lori Valdes said. “People often forget about fire victims and it’s been really amazing to see how the community pulled together.”
Through Nov. 30, Butler School Resource Officer Michelle Archer will collect clothing and household items for the students and is hosting a raffle to raise money for them, too. The prize is an iPod Nano, donated by Target in Matthews. Tickets are $1 each to guess the number of Tootsie Rolls in a jar and community members are welcome to come to the school to participate.
After learning that four of her students were affected, Archer said she had to act.
“I had to do something for my ‘Bulldog Babies.’ That’s what I call them; that’s who the kids are to me,” she said. On her first collection day, the box outside her office for supplies was full and Archer collected $79 in the raffle. The money will be split evenly between the four Butler families in the form of gift cards, she said. The school’s PTSO also is helping sell raffle tickets to students during lunch periods.
The Butler PTSO also is planning a fundraising night for students with the help of Jet’s Pizza, 920 Park Center Drive, in Matthews. From 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, the restaurant will donate a percentage of all sales to Butler students affected by the fire. The offer is good for dine-in out, take-out and delivery.
Fire victims say they’re truly grateful.
“Quite honestly, the people have been fantastic,” Will Chuss said. The 48-year-old’s lived at the complex for three years with his son, a senior at Butler who lost about half his research on his senior project in the fire. The two are staying with friends in Monroe. The two were driving to Pennsylvania when a friend called to tell them about the fire.
“With this crisis, people are going above and beyond,” Chuss said. “Our entire lives were in there. But the community just has been wonderful. You have people come up to drop some stuff off at the complex and they don’t even know anyone who lives there.”
An avid bowler, Chuss said his local bowling league is pitching in, offering furniture and more. The school has given his son an extension to finish his project and friends at O’Neils in Mint Hill even organized a fundraiser last week for the family. The Chuss family also lost their two cats in the fire, Huey and Holly. The family lived on the second floor, directly above the unit where the fire started.
Resident Dave Kirschenblatt said he’s grateful for the support. He lives with his 15-year-old son who attends Butler and was at a Charlotte Checkers hockey game when a neighbor called about the fire.
“I just want to thank everybody for what they did,” he said. “All I had was all the clothes I was wearing. You go to the (complex) office and you can’t even walk in there people are donating so much stuff.”
In addition to the American Red Cross, others came by the night of the fire to offer food and supplies including Papa John’s which brought pizza and chicken wings. And later a member of nearby Elevation Church handed him a $100 Target gift card.
“I didn’t know his name, he just came in and gave it to me,” Kirschenblatt said. I think he just took it right out his pocket.”
Resident Preston McPherson is simply thankful to be alive. The donated clothing and toiletries he received is just icing on the cake, he said.
The 32-year-old was the man who firefighters watched jump from his third story balcony the night of the fire. What they didn’t see, he said, was McPherson lower his two Pug dogs to safety first.
McPherson, who lives with his fiancé Ashley Payack, fractured a vertebrae in his lower spine, bones in his right heel and shattered bones in his left ankle from the jump. He spent four days in the hospital has had one surgery and at least two more are planned.
“I’m already blessed enough. It was just more blessings that people take for granted everyday,” he said. He and Payack are planning a June 1 wedding in Charleston.
A train engineer with the CSX Corporation, McPherson was home with dogs Rheya, 4, and Zelda, 1 when the fire alarm went off. By the time he put on shoes and grabbed his wallet and keys, the front
door was blocked by thick smoke and intense heat, he said. He was trapped.
From the balcony off the master bedroom, McPherson used the push button on each dog’s 20-foot leash to lower them as far as he could, the pups falling the final eight to 10 feet. Once they were on the ground, McPherson climbed over the railing to drop himself.
“I looked down and the area was lit by the light of the fire. I found a clear spot to land and let go,” he said. “My first priority was getting my dogs out.”
Want to help?
Through Nov. 30, Butler School Resource Officer Michelle Archer will collect clothing and household items for the students and is hosting a raffle to raise money for them, too.
The prize is an iPod Nano, donated by Target in Matthews. Tickets are $1 each to guess the number of Tootsie Rolls in a jar and community members are welcome to come to the school, 1810 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, to participate.
And from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, Jet’s Pizza, 920 Park Center Drive, in Matthews, will donate a percentage of all sales to Butler students affected by the fire. The offer is good for dine-in out, take-out and delivery.
For more information, call Jet’s Pizza at 704-845-1015 or email ButlerPTSO@gmail.com.