Written by Yue Ma
Edited by Jiali Liu
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
On August 20, 2022, a fire sparked at the River Place Apartment Community in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, believed to have been started by a lightning strike. The sudden blaze impacted more than 40 units at the River Place Apartments, and led to a partial roof collapse.
Apartment residents thankfully had time to evacuate, but 44 families, including 75 children who were about to start school, had been temporarily displaced by the disaster. Mobilizing swiftly, Tzu Chi volunteers visited the community to distribute direct relief in the form of cash cards with help from the American Red Cross (ARC), which provided Tzu Chi with a list of affected households.
Following the disaster, Tzu Chi volunteers got in touch with Shana Beal, the Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross’ Wisconsin Relief Center. On September 17, 2022, Milwaukee volunteers and Tzu Chi volunteers traveled to Brown Deer to start distributions, where a total of 32 households attended the day’s relief event.
After experiencing such a frightening event, survivors held lingering fears. “We went outside and were shocked to see the scene in front of us,” Jennifer Tracey shared. “We didn’t expect a fire burning, so we could only take what we could with us.”
“It started out very small, then it got bigger and bigger,” said Geraldine Johnson. “I’m glad it didn’t happen at night because there was no warning. Without a warning system, no one would know that there’s a fire.”
For survivors of the apartment community fire, the distribution provided timely help and soothed their concerns. Each disaster survivor was presented with a cash card loaded with funds, eco-blankets, scarves, masks, and hygiene products. In addition, Tzu Chi Milwaukee volunteers had collected 46 boxes of donated clothing of varying sizes for survivors to choose from, including winter clothes. Fire survivors were deeply moved, surprised that an organization they didn’t know had come to help, and some survivors even expressed their willingness to join the Tzu Chi family as volunteers.
“We got blankets, seven scarves made from recycled bottles, and my husband got a winter coat. I’m very grateful because we lost all of our clothes to the fire,” expressed Jennifer Tracy.