Here are some tips — and some steps not to take — if you want to help.
- You can bring water, nonperishable food, toiletries and clothing (especially children’s clothing) to the CASA Welcome Center at 734 University Blvd. East in Silver Spring from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, or 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday. Call 301-270-8432 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about donating.
- The Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter in a nearby recreation center’s gymnasium, where 60 to 70 people are staying. The Red Cross is helping the families find more permanent shelter but has asked that community members do not bring donations to the recreation center.
- Many of the families speak Spanish or French and need interpreters. Volunteers who are able to interpret in either language should email email@example.com.
- Montgomery Housing Partnership is collecting monetary donations for the displaced residents. You can make a contribution online here or mail a check to Montgomery Housing Partnership with “Long Branch fire” in the memo line to 12200 Tech Road, Suite 250, Silver Spring, MD 20904.
“These families have lost everything they had,” said Rommel Sandino, who is coordinating CASA’s aid effort. “They are devastated. They have lost everything they had built in this country.”
Many neighbors flocked to the area of the fire to try to help on Thursday.
Juana Rivera, 58, thought she could help bridge the language barrier between some victims and first responders. “Most of them are immigrants. Most of them are either Latino or Asian,” said Rivera, who speaks Spanish and lives in a house near the apartment complex. “Maybe I could help translate or something to help.”
She stood behind the caution tape and stared at the leveled building in concern. “School is starting,” she said. “Do the kids have their school stuff ready?”
Teachers at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School, where many of the children who live in the complex go, wondered the same thing. The teachers got together Thursday to collect food, water, school supplies and other items for the families.
“These parents are already trying to take care of their kids and are worried about back-to-school shopping,” Gabrielle Reese, a second-grade teacher at the school, said. “For a tragedy to happen right before school starts, [it’s about] how can we help these students so they feel safe and ready to come back to school and be in a happy place. Because obviously right now, there’s nothing but fear running through their minds.”
Jenilyn Mahani, a technician at the school, was worried about how the explosion would affect students, some of whom fled violent countries. “They get here, and they think they’re safe,” Mahani said. “To go through that can really cause a lot of damage to the little children.”
Luz Lazo and Keith L. Alexander contributed reporting.