Providing Love and Relief following Brown Deer’s River Place Apartment Community Fire

Midwest  |  September 30, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers distribute clothing for survivors of the River Place Apartment Community fire in Brown Deer
Tzu Chi volunteers distribute clothing for survivors of the River Place Apartment Community fire in Brown Deer, Wisconsin. Photo/Yue Ma

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.

Tzu Ch USA volunteer standing in front of survivors apartments
Volunteers survey apartments to understand survivors’ immediate needs. Photo/Yue Ma
Members of the American Red Cross and Tzu Chi volunteers
Members of the American Red Cross join Tzu Chi volunteers at the distribution site. Photo/Yue Ma

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. 

Survivors holding with relief items from Tzu Chi USA
Survivors are filled with relief upon receiving resources after the disaster. Photo/Yue Ma

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.”

Tzu Chi volunteers welcoming survivors attending the distribution
Tzu Chi volunteers welcome survivors attending the distribution. Photo/Yue Ma
Tzu Chi volunteers explain the distribution process to survivors
Tzu Chi volunteers explain the distribution process to survivors. Photo/Yue Ma

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. 

Tzu Chi volunteers and American Red Cross members group photo
Tzu Chi volunteers and American Red Cross members unite for relief at Tzu Chi USA’s Chicago Service Center. Photo/Yue Ma

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