Jan. 23, 2024 By Bill Parry
Around 200 people attended a fire relief benefit in Sunnyside last week, where they raised $10,000 to assist nearly 450 of their neighbors who were displaced by a 5-alarm inferno that destroyed their apartment complex just days before Christmas.
The fundraiser, organized by residents under the name Sunnyside Strong, was held on Jan. 19 at Sunnyside Community Services, which served as a base for the Red Cross to provide services to the families who lost their homes at 43-09 47th St. on Dec. 20.
Community leader Ty Sullivan, who organized the event with a core group of friends, said the fundraiser showed that Sunnyside comes together at times of adversity.
“It’s just great to see the community come out and just see all these people,” Sullivan said. “It’s what makes this community amazing. People come together for the good and the bad and unfortunately, this was a bad situation but you see a lot of people come together for the greater good.”
Sullivan said the funds raised would be added to the GoFundMe account set up by Sunnyside Community Services that will close on Jan. 31. The funds will be distributed shortly afterward, according to SCS executive director Judy Zangwill. To date, the SCS fund has raised nearly $120,000.
Sullivan had hoped that the event would have raised more but noted that many had already donated prior to the Jan. 19 event. He also said many of the displaced tenants had also set up their own GoFundMe pages soon after the blaze.
“We want to do everything we can to ease the burden when something like this happens and we’re just happy that we have the ability to provide space,” Zangwill said. “This is a community that always rallies, unfortunately, we’ve had a few crises in this community during my time here and it always comes together and really just supported their neighbors in whatever way they could.”
In the aftermath of the devastation, Council Member Julie Won turned her district office into a distribution center for the displaced and coordinated volunteers to help them collect their belongings from their ruined apartments. Her office is now working with tenants, the landlord A&E Real Estate and all involved government agencies to make sure “there is no foul play or mistreatment” of the residents.
“Anything that tenants have issues with, we have their back and we are also making sure that they’re legally protected in any way that are under their rights,” Won said. “This event is called Sunnyside Strong and it’s a testament of that, it is an illustration of how strong our community is, since the first day of the fire and now that it’s coming up to the first month of the fire.”
Won added that she is working with tenants and local landlords to get as many people as possible in local apartments, since A&E Real Estate is unable to offer units for its displaced tenants in western Queens. Won is also working to make sure the number of rent stabilized units in the building does not change after reconstruction. On Friday she thanked the organizers of the fundraiser, the musicians that performed and the restaurant and bars that provide food and drink, and all of the volunteers who have helped those in need since the fire.
“This community is really protective of each other, the community is really supportive of each other and first and foremost, everyone is family,” Won said. “If you’re from Sunnyside and you’ve been in this community, they will not let you down, no matter what happens.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.