A heart as big as a city

A New Year’s Day fire destroyed the building at 22 W. Baltimore Street, seen Jan. 2.

Lynn residents and their neighbors reached into their hearts, their wallets and their cast-off clothes boxes this week to help 65 people left homeless and without possessions in the New Year’s Day fire.

The West Baltimore Street blaze brought terror, trauma, displacement and confusion into the building tenants’ lives. But it did not bring death and it set the stage for a city filled with big-hearted people to embrace and support the displaced residents.

Lynn firefighters rushed to the fire and risked their lives ensuring every tenant fled the burning building in safety. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and other city officials set the city’s emergency response plan in motion to provide shelter and help for displaced residents, aided by Red Cross workers and volunteers.

By late Sunday, local organizations LynnArts and Centerboard became focal points for donation dropoffs that filled available space to capacity with diapers, clothes and other assistance. Support will continue to pour in this week with financial donations to help the homeless tenants restart their lives by renting apartments and buying new possessions.

The donors, from local Girl Scouts to Gov. Charlie Baker, must have thought for even a few minutes about the overwhelming fear and disorientation that flooded over the tenants even as they appreciated being alive.

Imagine losing important documents, cherished belongings, Christmas and other holiday gifts. What is it like to not be able to go home because home no longer exists? What kind of strength does it take to begin reassembling the basic necessities of life when home for the near future is a couch, a gymnasium cot or a motel room?

After the headlines disappear and the Red Cross workers move on to the next disaster, it will fall on local officials and friends and family of the 22 West Baltimore St. tenants to help the 65 residents driven from their homes by fire to find new places to live and restore all the components of a modern life.

One Community One Voice was one of several local organizations that reached out Sunday and Monday to help the tenants. Organization founder Lisa Wallace described the group as “diverse but united, especially when there’s a crisis.” That description is easily applied to Lynn with its diverse population committed to helping when disaster strikes.

It is sad to see the holidays end with a calamity. On the other hand, the West Baltimore fire allowed the gratitude and generosity of the season to spill over to help people in need. The New Year’s Day fire is an opportunity to ensure every Lynn resident’s resolution list includes a reminder to keep helping the fire survivors until their lives are rebuilt.

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