School hosts drive after Bronx apartment fire

Naomi Yaeger and Sean Lee

To collect aid for the people affected by Sunday’s Bronx apartment fire, Kate Beckler (10) and Etta Singer (10) initiated a month-long, school-wide relief drive on Monday. The drive is collecting a variety of goods ranging from packaged food to hygiene products to unused clothing, Singer wrote in an email sent to the Upper Division (UD) on Monday. “We’re really just trying to do our part for the community,” they said.

Sunday’s fire occurred due to a space heater malfunction at the Twin Peaks Northwest building in Fordham Heights. 17 people died, including eight children, and 66 were injured, Beckler said. “There was a door left open, and a lot of smoke rose up 15 floors — that ended up being the bigger killer,” she said. “At least one person per floor died in the building.” 

Many victims have been displaced from their homes or lost family members, Singer said.

The drive has been fairly successful so far, with community members donating toiletries such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, clothing, and sanitary products like conditioner and shampoo. “A lot of the people in the fire lost all of their belongings so any new clothes, sheets and toiletries are really important to help out,” she said. “It’s a more of an all-in-need situation, especially with the added pressure of the pandemic.”

Beckler learned about the fire by reading the news. “I read the news every day, and on Sunday there was a big article in the New York Times about it,” she said. “I thought, this is Horace Mann’s community, we should really be helping out.”

Singer learned about the tragedy from their father. “My dad was reading the news at the dinner table, and he read out ‘Fire in the Bronx, Big fire, 17 killed.’ It was like a scene out of a TV show,” they said. “Then Katie posed the idea, and I was like ‘of course we should do this.’”

Within 24 hours, Dean of Students Michael Dalo helped turn the idea of the drive into a reality, Beckler said. Dalo helped Beckler and Singer work out the logistics for a week-long, UD-wide drive, and then got Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly and Director of the Center for Community Values and Action Dr. Kimberly Joyce-Bernard to join the cause, Beckler said.

With Joyce-Bernard’s help, Beckler and Singer were able to extend the drive into a school-wide event. The drive will now run for a whole month and is open to all four divisions of the school, as well as teachers and parents, Singer said. Students will also be able to write short letters to the people who lost their homes and possessions in the fire, they said. These changes will allow the drive to have a larger impact on the community and more of the school’s student body to get involved in this important cause, Singer said.

Students can also write a “Note of Light,” a personalized postcard or drawing, to be distributed with the care package, Joyce-Bernard said.

At the end of the drive, the public safety staff will bring the donated materials over to the Bronx Fire Relief Fund, Beckler said. “We really want to give a big shout out to [public safety],” she said.

The whole Bronx community has been pitching in to help with this tragedy, Singer said. “I live in Riverdale, so we’ve been getting all these emails and texts from different places around the neighborhood that are running their own drive or Go-Fund-Mes,” they said. “The community is really coming together.”