Mall, Red Cross hold drive for victims of blaze

NASHUA – The Pheasant Lane Mall and the New Hampshire Gateway Chapter of the American Red Cross planned a donation drive that took place Saturday inside the mall to benefit the victims of the Vine Street fire Monday.

Diane Vumbaco, volunteer recruiter of the Gateway Chapter, sat patiently at the donation table watching people buying last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts or romantic novels as they dropped small but important donations into the jar.

“It all adds up,” she said. “It’s all welcome.”

Since the fire that left 14 families homeless, the Gateway Chapter has already spent more than $7,500 of the $8,000 officials think will be needed to provide the families with shelter, clothing and other necessities.

“It’s tremendously important,” Vumbaco said about people helping out their neighbors and friends. “All of the contributions made by the Red Cross go out to families in need.”

All of the money donated to the Disaster Relief Fund goes into the bank so that when disasters such as this take place, the Red Cross has the funds to help the families in need.

“Right away, donations were coming through the mail,” said Rebecca Justice, executive director of the Gateway Chapter.


Justice said the response of the community has been extremely supportive and that the media attention has been helpful.

“It encourages people to continue to be supportive,” she said.

Red Cross Emergency Services Director Ashley Pushkarewicz appeared touched by the compassion the community has shown.

“We have had countless calls from people offering to donate material items, rooms for rent or their service as translators working with the fire victims,” she said.

The Gateway Chapter has currently raised about $2,093.

Justice knows that a lot of people want to donate items, but the Red Cross is able to collect only cash donations. However, Central Realty has been collecting any and all items that people are willing to donate, from clothes to kitchenware.

“It’s eye opening to see that people actually do care, especially in this economy,” said Kristy Perez, finance manager of Central Realty.

Central Realty has collected clothes, baby furniture, shoes, blankets, towels, a couch, two recliners, dressers, end tables, a refrigerator and dishes from people who just want to help.

“It’s been a huge outpour,” said Joann Lagrandier, leasing agent for Central Realty. “I’m happy to see how much people have been bringing in.”

Through Facebook, Craigslist and word of mouth, the employees at the realty office are doing everything they can, including bringing in items from their own homes, to replace some of the most vital things that were lost in the fire.

“I feel like helping,” Lagrandier said. “Give them something to start off with, anyway.”

As far as hearing from any of the 14 families: “Everybody, every day,” she said.

Richard Jean, owner/broker for Central Realty, was at the site of the fire as soon as he heard about it.

Having known some of the tenants for years, he said it’s great to see their friends holding their heads up at such a tough time.

“It’s amazing how good the tenants’ attitudes are,” he said. “They joke and even laugh a little bit.”

One couple affected by the fire walked into the office and took only a towel. But every little bit that people donate is needed and helpful.

“This crew really went above and beyond,” Jean said. “They did a fantastic job.”