Donations pour in for victims of Rolling Creek apartment blaze

Thursday is last day for displaced residents to collect household items

By

Published:

 

When Jennifer Zimmerman came with her baby to City Harvest Church on Wednesday, it was after a collision of three major events in her life, one unfortunate, one tragic and one a bit glorious.

Zimmerman, 23, said she first lost her job as assistant manager of the Rolling Creek Apartments in Hazel Dell, where she lived.

Then, a roaring fire in Building F of Rolling Creek on April 21, when baby Tyryen was only 14 days old, heavily damaged the building she lived in and caused at least $1 million in damage.

No one was badly injured, but the inferno displaced Zimmerman, the baby and her fiancé, Jake Protasiewicz, from their damaged apartment.

The fire displaced 23 other families as well, a total of 56 people suddenly homeless.

But now something was in the wind. The public had heard of the Rolling Creek fire. People also knew of two other fires around the same time in Clark County that killed a total of seven people including five children.

And the tornados in the South around the same time were devastating, killing hundreds.

The sympathies of many were aroused.

“We want to help, we don’t know what to do and our hearts are breaking, all of us,” said Loris Ray, a member of City Harvest Church in Hazel Dell.

She decided she’d rally others to put the displaced Rolling Creek fire victims back on their feet.

Ray, working with local Red Cross volunteers and other church members, asked the public to bring donated household items of all sorts to the church at 8100 N.W. Ninth Ave. on Monday and Tuesday.

And folks in cars and trucks came to the church, arriving at times in lines of three to six vehicles, with donations of every type imaginable. Two came from as far away as Tigard and Salem, Ore.

“The public has just gone nuts to help us,” Ray said Wednesday “Oh! You have no concept.”

On Wednesday and again today, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., families displaced by the Rolling Creek fire are invited to come to the church and take what they need, for free. Volunteers have a list of the displaced folks’ names.

Volunteers worked hard to arrange the household items on display in the church lobby and another very large room. Clothing, beds, microwaves, dishes, toys, books, pillows, toothpaste, soaps and so much more, a very large amount.

There looked to be enough to outfit 20 or more families start to finish, all new or in clean, usable condition.

On Wednesday, Ray and other volunteers were helping parents find replacements for their lost belongings.

And babies too.

“What would you like honey? What can we get you? Want the baby bear?” Ray said to blond, blue-eyed Izabella Beaupre, 2, who was sitting in a donated shopping cart in the church lobby.

Izabella chose a gray-and-pink stuffed elephant toy, as big as she is.

Her father, Bryan Beaupre, 29, a truck driver, and the rest of their family were displaced by smoke damage and lost many household items.

“We actually found a better place,” he said at the church Wednesday. “It’s a little more expensive but I was already in line to work with a better company.”

Zimmerman was less fortunate.

Zimmerman’s baby, Tyryen, less than a month old on Wednesday, was two weeks old when the Rolling Creek fire damaged most of their belongings and forced them out.

“It felt like we brought him home and, bam, came the fire. He came early, just in time for all the chaos.”

As the fire was raging in Building F, their border collie-mix dog, Budders, was trapped inside their apartment and was howling for help.

Jake Protasiewicz, 21, was allowed to go inside briefly, grab Budders and carry him to safety.

The couple were later allowed to collect some of their belongings, including some baby furniture.

They went to the church Wednesday and were able to take home many things they need. A rug, a slider rocking chair, bassinet, baby bath articles, baby clothing — and clothes for themselves, to replace the apparel they lost to the smoky fire.

What do they call home now?

The living room of a house in Felida that belonged to Protasiewicz’ parents, which is for sale, she said.

Both parents said they are frantically looking for jobs and have experience in several lines of work.

They said they would be willing to rent, if not a house or apartment, perhaps a room in someone’s home.

“As soon as I get a job I can get a home of some sort,” Zimmerman said.

The family is in a tough spot, but Zimmerman said that’s taught her things.

“You really learn what you can live without,” she said. “And you learn how the community can really come together, surprisingly so, in such a horrible situation.”

Ray, the church member who coordinated the donations with several other volunteers, said late Wednesday that the donations far exceeded the amount of household items that displaced residents had come to select so far.

“At this point, we really want them to come in,” Ray said, adding that today is the last day the items will be available for free at the church.

The apartment manager and volunteers have been unable to contact several displaced families because their phones are disconnected.

Also, two people who lived there have moved, one to Seattle and the other to California, and didn’t want any household items.

When the donation offer ends at 8 tonight, Ray said she’s scheduled to call someone at the Salvation Army on Friday morning, to bring trucks and take items away.

Church members also plan a garage sale of some of the donated items, to help support their medical mission in Guatemala.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.