Friday, February 11, 2011

“When Red Cross arrived, I realized we weren’t in this alone.”

SoYeon Lee came to the U.S. in 2004 from her home in India to attend college in Ohio. After receiving her degree, she took a job with a financial research firm in New York and an apartment in upper Manhattan with her younger sister, SaRang. With a job in a down economy, SaRang in graduate school at Teachers College and an apartment they liked, SoYeon felt that she and her sister “Really had it together and were off to a good start as young adults.” The last thing she expected was to be displaced by a fire.

But that’s exactly what happened one frigid winter night in the middle of one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record in New York City. SoYeon, SaRang and a friend from out of town were up late talking, and got to bed around 1 a.m. SaRang, however, was unable to sleep; she thought she smelled something she described as “toxic.” At 3:30 a.m. she rose from bed, opened the apartment door and was greeted by a wall of smoke in the hallway. SaRang immediately woke SoYeon and their friend, told them to put on their coats and boots, and hustled them down the fire escape. As they clambered down four flights to safety in the biting night air, they knocked on neighbors’ windows to alert them to the danger.

Firefighters soon arrived. SoYeon, SaRang, their friend and neighbors tried to keep their spirits up as they watched the blaze being extinguished. Soon, two Red Cross relief workers drove up, ready to provide comfort and assistance. “When Red Cross arrived, I realized we weren’t in this alone,” said SoYeon. “It was great knowing that support is there for you when you’re feeling so lost.”

Red Cross deemed the apartment uninhabitable due to fire and water damage. (The blaze had started in the unit directly below SoYeon’s.) SoYeon didn’t know her rights as a tenant in the aftermath of the fire—what the landlord was obligated to take care of and what she and her sister needed to do. “The Red Cross answered those questions,” she said. “We survived the fire, that’s one phase. But so much more comes after the fire.”

SoYeon and SaRang received on-the-spot emergency financial assistance from the Red Cross to replace burned clothing and to buy food. Later that week, SoYeon visited Chapter headquarters, where she met with a Red Cross caseworker who provided further information and support. “More important than anything is the information we received,” she said. “Learning our rights in this situation means more than money.”

SoYeon Lee, from Manhattan

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I never knew Red Cross provided assistance in this manner. I always thought they provided aid abroad, but it's amazing to know they provide domestically as well. Great story.

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