By Amanda Rothenberg and Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross
Damian Stapelkamp had just gotten off the bus one December evening when he noticed smoke rising from a house in his neighborhood. As the Staten Island native edged closer to the source of the smoke, he quickly began to realize something was not right. Its origin was the house adjoining his childhood home, which was quickly becoming engulfed in flames.
As a former professional wrestler and past contestant on Master Chef, Stapelkamp has learned to adapt to many challenging situations. Described by a friend as the kind of guy that would “give you the shirt off his back if you needed it,” Stapelkamp uses his positive attitude to prevail in even the most stressful situations. However, faced with the reality that he may lose his childhood home, Stapelkamp wasn’t sure what to do. But in the midst of everything, he recalls, the American Red Cross was there to provide some guidance.
“I didn’t even notice that they were there until they came up to us,” he said of the Red Cross volunteers. “No fanfare, not trying to make things about them, just ‘how can we help’, which I really appreciated.”
The Red Cross provided Stapelkamp and his mother, who he lives with, a hotel room for the night. The fire was put out by 11:30 p.m. and there was minimal damage.
“I thought I was going back to the house the next day,” Stapelkamp said. It seemed like the worst was over. But it didn’t end there; during the night, a second fire broke out at their home.
“I guess they call it a rekindle,” Stapelkamp said, “That did much more damage. The first fire was terrible… the second fire pretty much destroyed everything we owned.”
Left with nothing, the Stapelkamps felt defeated. For the second time in two days, the Red Cross was there to provide some guidance, offering the pair some money for basic necessities to help them get back on their feet.
“You’re sitting there and you’re watching everything you own burn, and there are people there saying, ‘Look, we have stuff for you, we’re here for you, we’re going to help you’,” Stapelkamp said.
Looking back on his experience, Stapelkamp says he was moved by the actions of the Red Cross volunteers.
“These people are getting up out of their beds and giving their time to make sure people are taken care of and safe. They’re making sure people are healthy, that they have lodging and that they have clothes on their back, and that’s really important.”
And for all who have graciously donated and volunteered their time to the Red Cross, Stapelkamp says, “Thank you. Thank you for your help, thank you for supporting us; this is something I’m going to support in the future.”