Community assistance continues in aftermath of Thomas Campbell fire

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Community agencies continue to rally support for fire-displaced residents of Thomas Campbell Apartments as they wait to return home.

The fire broke out at the South Strabane Township senior high-rise early Dec. 23, killing one and injuring five others.

Residents of about 56 units were displaced from their homes. About 33 of them have been living at Suburban Extended Stay Hotel in Canton Township, and the remainder are staying with family.

“We have paid for the last two weeks for any resident who needed to stay at the hotel,” said Capt. Amber Imhoff of the Salvation Army in Washington. Imhoff added that the organization has provided almost $30,000 in assistance for those at the hotel.

And today (Jan. 15), families of residents have organized a spaghetti dinner to help raise money for the recovery efforts.

The dinner will be held from noon to 5 p.m. at American Legion Post 175, 168 Park Ave., Washington.

Becky Friend is among the relatives organizing the event. Her brother, Ronald Briggs, and aunt, Jackie Batson, are staying at the Suburban, unable to return to their home.

“All of the proceeds are going to be equally divided between the residents of Thomas Campbell that are at the Suburban,” Friend said.

Tickets were sold prior to the dinner for $10 for adults and $5 for children. Walk-ins are welcome, and Friend said they are offering to-go boxes for those who prefer take-out.

Friend expressed gratitude for both the agencies that have helped Thomas Campbell residents and the support shown by the community.

“The outpour of clothing and food donations that they have given over at the Suburban has been tremendous, and the Suburban manager has been wonderful to all the residents,” Friend said.

Friend said her brother are aunt are coping with the situation well, but that is has been difficult for them in the weeks since the fire.

“They want to go back home, really bad,” Friend said. “They all want to go back to their regular homes.”

Imhoff is hopeful at least some residents will be able to return home in the coming weeks, but said some are likely to find other living arrangements.

“A lot of them will be transitioning into rental assistance in the next week or two,” Imhoff said.

According to Imhoff, Blueprints is helping displaced residents enroll in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) so they can live elsewhere.

Jasman Fleegal, social services coordinator for Thomas Campbell Apartments, said there is no time frame for when residents may be able to return.

“We are giving them options. We don’t know time-wise what it is going to look like,” Fleegal said.

She added that residents staying at the Suburban are holding up well, despite the circumstances.

“The hotel is very gracious. Most of the residents that are there are doing very well,” Fleegal said.

Dr. Arthur Keys, president of the board of directors at Thomas Campbell Apartments, recognized the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Blueprints and Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging for providing significant assistance.

“I think there have been over $100,000 in assistance. It’s very appreciated,” Keys said.

He added that the arrangement with Suburban has worked out well.

“Obviously, we want to get people back as soon as possible. I’m hopeful in the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to move people back,” Keys said.

When residents do return, Imhoff said they are working with Thomas Campbell Apartments to provide welcome home packages, as well as new bedding.

For those who wish, monetary donations may be sent to Thomas Campbell Apartments Activity Fund, Thomas Campbell Apartments, 850 Beech St., Washington, Pa., 15301.

Imhoff said they are currently not accepting large clothing or furniture donations, as they do not have the space. However, she said gift cards for food or clothing, or rolls of quarters for doing laundry would be appreciated.

Other Washington County agencies that have helped are the Washington County Department of Human Services, Aging Services of Washington County, Washington County Veterans Affairs, Washington County Behavioral Health and Development Services, Food Helpers and Freedom Transit.

“Our community has been really wonderful. A lot of agencies have stepped up to the plate,” Imhoff said.

Thomas Campbell Apartments provides affordable housing for seniors, and house 225 residents in 124 units.



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