by Robert Kimmel –
Following a ravaging fire that forced residents to flee from their Sleepy Hollow home during Christmas Eve, the public’s generosity was quickly marshalled to aid a village DPW employee’s extended family, and other tenants, occupants of the heavily damaged three-story house. Among the 13 persons made homeless were three children, ages three, seven and nine.
Village Clerk Paula McCarthy established a “GoFundMe” effort on the Internet directed at collecting funds to help the families, and the village sent out an email letter to 2,200 residents, while information was also placed on Facebook. The employee, Jose Zhinin, has worked for the village for almost 18 years, and owned his home at 194 Beekman Avenue for 20 years.
Robust assistance also came quickly through the determined efforts of Anne Richards, who administers the 10591 group, a community Facebook organization, and Matthew Gullotta who maintains the Gullotta House Inc., a local charity which aids Westchester residents who face hardships.
Within several hours following the fire, through Gullotta’s efforts and financial help, and with the assistance of the DoubleTree Hotel’s Assistant General Manager Michelle Cinto, the homeless were lodged at that Tarrytown hotel for three nights and provided with many of their meals as well.
Richards rallied 10591 members to join in her ongoing endeavors to provide clothing, shoes, shelter and funding for the homeless families. She assembled the goods at her house and managed delivery of the collected articles to the displaced persons. Through her messaging to the community, she continued an effort to secure temporary residences for them, pending the repair of the house.
Gullotta and Richards were among the volunteers who brought goods and presents to the families at the hotel. “It was good to see the young children open their Christmas presents,” Gullotta said.
“This is a wonderful, hard-working Sleepy Hollow family whom I’ve personally known for many years,” McCarthy wrote about the Zhinin group for the GoFundMe donations. “On this Christmas Eve, they have lost their home to a raging fire. Their family including a toddler, along with several tenants, are left to wonder what’s next? Let’s help them re-build their lives. Please help me help them.”
The village’s letter noted in part the “sad and devastating event,” and explained that, “One of our residents, who is also one of our Public Works employees, lost his home to a raging fire on Beekman Avenue. His family, along with several tenants were lucky to get out alive. If you would like to help these families get back on their feet quickly, you may donate to ‘GoFundMe’ by clicking the link below. Thank you in advance for your generosity and kindness.”
“Many people have been in touch with me to find out how they can help,” Sleepy Hollow Administrator Anthony Giaccio commented. “This is a strong, and caring community.” He also noted that the Red Cross assisted as well. Giaccio added, “Thankfully our fire department did an excellent job when responding to keep the fire from spreading, and fortunately no one was hurt.”
After almost a week of donations to the fund, it was approaching within several thousand dollars of the $20,000 goal originally set by McCarthy, and nearly 300 people had contributed. “They really need the help, so they can build their home back up,” she said.
Comments included with donations, one of which reached $500 from an individual donor, expressed their feelings.
“People need to support those in need. That is what makes this community so great,” read one.
“I hope that the families rebound from this tragedy as quickly as possible…sending a donation along with thoughts and prayers,” was another.
“Prayers of comfort and know that you are not alone,” related another.
“I’m so sorry for all of you and just know the town is behind you in this tough time,” was still another.
And from someone who had similarly suffered came this message: “I know how it feels to lose everything in a tragedy like this. We lost our home and all our belongings during Hurricane Sandy. It was the gifts of strangers that lifted my spirits and gave me hope. My heart goes out to this family.”
Donations can be made to the GoFundMe link found on the Sleepy Hollow Village Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/sleepyhollowny.gov/