Northeastern students were among those displaced by an apartment fire at 104 and 108 Hemenway St. in Boston on Saturday. Many students lost all of their belongings in the blaze.
The university immediately provided students affected by the fire with housing, toiletries, dining hall entry, rental laptops, and replacement course materials, as well as services to recover documents and comb through renters insurance policies.
Now there’s a student-led effort as well.
On Thursday, Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., student volunteers will be collecting items such as bedding, backpacks, toiletries, academic supplies, shoes, and clothing, with specific emphasis on winter gear, deodorant, menstrual products, classroom supplies beyond pens and notebooks, and backpacks.
Interested donors can drop off new and used items at the Center for Intercultural Engagement in the Curry Student Center, where volunteers could already be seen collecting items mid-morning on Wednesday, at which point nearly 40 volunteer shifts had been filled for the coming days.
“We’re only three hours into a three-day collection,” said Jackie Arce, one of the student organizers, as she gestured to dozens of boxes of donated goods. “So this is a pretty good turnout.”
The items lost in the fire include furniture and books, but also more personal items, such as clothes and home decor. Sam Haas, another student organizer, realized that quickly.
He and his fellow organizers starting texting nearly immediately after the fire, asking one another, “What is the need that we can help fill?” They then took that question to the Student Affairs team, which was already working to find housing for and support students on the day of the fire.
“What’s your capacity right now?” Haas recalled asking. “And is there any way for us to supplement what you’re doing?”
This manifested in the donation drive, which will continue for the next two days and culminate in pick-up hours from 12 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3 and Sunday, Nov. 4 for the students receiving the items.
This effort has been carried out in coordination with Karin Firoza and Yusuf Abdelkader from the Center for Intercultural Engagement.
The idea to help grew out of a group text among about 10 Northeastern students. But more than 100 people have since committed to volunteer shifts, and donations are still pouring in from people at Northeastern and beyond.
“In that sense, there have been a lot more people involved,” said Haas, who remembers that when he talked directly to displaced students, some of them said they had nothing more than “my phone and the clothes on my back.”
This student-to-student empathy was visceral, said Arce, who was only one block away from the fire when she noticed the smoke. She described the experience as “close to home” and knew immediately that she wanted to act.
“We wanted to get this going as soon as possible,” Haas said. “Let’s harness this energy.”