FOUR CORNERS – A special fund has been set up to assist the families left homeless by the fire that destroyed a hotel on U.S. 192 in Four Corners on June 25, but it’s not the only program aimed at helping the hotel’s former residents.
“The relief fund is being set up by Centerstate Bank and is being managed or facilitated by Give Kids Safe Shelter Inc., a non-prodfit organization,” said David Castro, director of the local Emergency Management Office overseeing the relief efforts for the victims. “There’s no many people wanting to help, and a lot of people not sure how to help, and it can be overhwhemling if it’s not managed correctly.”
The fire destroyed the Vacation Lodge Maingate on West U.S. 192 in Four Corners, leaving 150 people homeless. The residents were taken to a temporary shelter at Celebration High School overseen by the American Red Cross.
“What the Red Cross does is take care of their emergency disaster needs, so we gave them enough funds to cover their housing needs for a month,” said Laureen Martinez, spokesperson for the Red Cross’ Mid-Florida region.
In addition, “We continue to see clients,” she said. “We had clients coming in all of last week, who had not caught up with our caseworkers. They were meeting with our caseworkers to get a place to stay, and also food and clothing and whatever other special needs they may have.”
So far, the cause of the blaze hasn’t yet been determined, said Niki Whisler, Osceola County’s public safety information officer.
“We’re still waiting for the state Fire Marshall’s report,” she said.
The four alarm fire caused the roof to collapse. The hotel is just a mile from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The property had 430 rooms, and about 150 people were staying there. The hotel is generally not marketed to tourists but to long-term residents who are unable to afford an apartment or home.
Since then, efforts have been made to assist the victims, including the establishment of a Relief Fund for the survivors. Anyone who wants to donate can send a check or cash donation to any branch of CenterState Bank. The money will go toward replacing property lost in the fire, including eyeglasses, medications, wheelchairs, driver’s licenses, baby formula and other children’s needs.
Give Kids Safe Shelter, Inc. is heading up the relief effort, and has already gotten pledges of support from the United States Specialty Sports Association and the Rotary Club of Lake Buena Vista, said Gene Terrico, chairman of Give Kids Safe Shelter.
“We are pleased the community has come together to help the survivors,” Terrico said. “Our friends and neighbors in Osceola County are exceedingly generous during times of need.”
Checks should be made out to Give Kids Safe Shelter with a notation that the funds are for the Vacation Lodge Relief Fund. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Castro said Emergency Management was working in coordination with Give Kids Safe Shelter to ensure that the relief efforts are well coordinated, and that the residents left homeless by the fire get the assistance they need.
“The first priority for us is to make sure everyone is okay and safe, obviously, in some type of safe shelter,” Castro said. “Beyond that we get the other non-profit organizations to address the unmet needs of the survivors. In other words, this is not a declared disaster, so there’s no FEMA funding or anything like that. But clearly these people have unmet needs that are not being addressed, and we’re providing a little bit of leadership in trying to facilitate all of the folks who are wanting to help, and do it in an efficient way.”
As Castro noted, a lot of public agencies, private charitable organizations, churches, and civic clubs will react to a disaster like this, and his office helps bring them all together.
“In a declared disaster, it’s an extremely large effort,” he said. “We provide them with the necessary resources to roll it all together. When this happened, there was a lot of people who wanted to help — church groups, non-profit organizations, individuals — all wanting to provide some type of donation.”
The good news, he said, is that when the disaster happened, the community demonstrated it would step forward to help those impacted by the fire.
“I think it’s going very well,” he said. “At this point in time, we’ve kind of stepped back as far as Emergency Management. We’ve done what our objective was, to get it going, and now emergency groups are working in a more focused way. We have received a lot of donations and they have gotten to a lot of the ones who asked for assistance with clothes and other goods. The American Red Cross helped start that by providing the fire survivors with monetary assistance in getting basic necessities bought.”
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