Monday, July 11, 2011

“There is still compassion in this city.”

After a May 29 fire destroyed his Brooklyn apartment, Michael Memeh discovered an unanticipated source of caring and kindness in his community. “Both the fire department and the Red Cross showed a marvelous kind of compassion that I have never experienced in New York,” Memeh said. “They were there to say, ‘This is not the end of the world. There is still hope….’”

Memeh said he stepped out for a meal that Sunday—and upon returning home from the restaurant, found smoke pouring from his third-floor apartment. He ran through the building alerting neighbors, who managed to evacuate by the time the fire department arrived on the scene. As firefighters controlled the blaze, Red Cross responders offered residents food, water, hygiene kits with essentials like toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap, and arranged for temporary housing.

A few weeks later, investigators hadn’t yet determined the cause of the fire on Dean St., but there is little doubt about the effects. “When I left my apartment to go to the restaurant, there was no television or radio on; everything was in order,” said Memeh. “By the time I came back, everything had burnt down. There was nothing left.”

The episode was just one of more than 300 fires and other emergencies the Greater NY Red Cross has responded to in Brooklyn over the first half of 2011; this year the organization has offered food, shelter and emotional support to more than 2,000 people in the borough.

Memeh has transitioned to a longer-term Brooklyn shelter provided by the city, says he looks forward to returning to his job as security guard, and continues to have kind words for the Red Cross. “The team from the Red Cross was able to pat me on the back as if my mother was there for me,” he said. “There is still compassion in this city. I will never forget that.”

Michael Memeh, Brooklyn, NY

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