By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Trash bags of debris and ruined belongings sat piled along the charred front facade of a multi-family home on Hudson’s Felton St., Dec. 10.
Three days after a fire tore through that building, a larger pile of uncovered broken beams and a partially burnt mattress also lay along the property line.
The nine residents displaced by this blaze lost everything, landlord Jessica Wooster said in a recent Facebook post. In response, though, a massive community wide effort has kicked off to help everyone get back on their feet.
“It’s been an amazing and overwhelming process,” said Lisa Comeau, a leader at Hudson’s First United Methodist Church now working with Wooster on fundraising for families.
The morning of the fire, Comeau said she saw early posts on Facebook showing the entire side of the building ablaze. Vinyl shingles melted onto a wooden outdoor stairway as one social media photo showed a Hudson fire department ladder truck carrying a stream of water through the smoke.
Comeau had planned to take her son to breakfast that morning. But she quickly changed course and rushed to First United Methodist, which sits directly across the street from the burned house.
Once on the scene, Comeau and other church volunteers welcomed families into their building, setting up snacks, coffee and tea as firefighters still worked outside.
One person brought a bundle of coats, gloves, hats and mittens on what was an icy winter morning.
Later that evening, the church offered a hot meal to families still trying to get their bearings.
“Everybody was coming in and out,” Comeau said. “It was a beautiful response.”
The fire took place on a Monday. In the week that has followed, Comeau and her church have worked jointly with Wooster, communicating with families and trying to sift through offers of money, goods, and services from the community.
For Comeau, this is personal as she lost her own apartment almost exactly 12 years ago to an electrical fire. She remembers the chaos of not only fleeing her house in panic, but then trying to get resettled in the midst of the holiday season.
Taking her story full circle, she says she’s seen a mountain of items donated to Wooster. Some have been useful and usable. Others, like the handful of broken appliances left at Wooster’s home, have not been.
As those kinds of donations can be hit or miss, Comeau says families need money, particularly as at least one tries to resettle in a new apartment that they’ve lined up. That space is available. The building landlord has even said he’s willing to be flexible on immediate payment of a security deposit. But the family still needs $3,800 to move in.
“Before we can concentrate on helping them in any other way,” Comeau said, “we need to get all these families housed.”
As of mid-afternoon on Dec. 10, Comeau said First United Methodist had raised $450 through their Pay-Pal donation system.
On a broad scale, throughout the hiccups in this process, Comeau sees the local response as a heartening one. She says Wooster and her husband Eric have gone above and beyond their duties as landlords. And she’s grateful to her community for aiding neighbors in ways larger aid organizations like the Red Cross often can’t.
Speaking towards the end of a week that started with blistering cold and the horrifying crackle of a fire in a home, though, Comeau says it’s the most personal of moments that stick with her.
On one night following the fire, one of the displaced families she’s been in contact with celebrated the birthday of a mother-in-law. They were exhausted. It was a hard time to celebrate a happy occasion.
So, Comeau brought over a cake. She sat with them for a moment and talked about what had just happened.
Later that night, she returned to her car and cried.
Those interested in donating money to families displaced by this Hudson fire can do so online by tagging donations to the First United Methodist Pay Pal with the memo “FIRE”. Interested donors can also give in person at Off the Rail Nutrition on South St. near downtown.