It takes a village
Kathy Kohl photographs Waterford firefighter Jeremy Espil with his children Hannah, 7, and John, 4, at the photo booth during the fundraiser for victims of the fire that destroyed Martini Mo’z in Waterford. Photo by: Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Any fire is tragic, but when Waterford firefighter Jeremy Espil responded to the fire at Martini MO'z on Jan. 3 to see the historic building in flames, it was "heartbreaking." Espil was on the second engine to respond to the fire that morning after Ruth Marquez woke up around 3:30 a.m. surrounded by smoke and called 911.
"To know her (owner Morena Marquez) and to know everything she's done for the department — it's heartbreaking," said Espil.
A week after the fire sent Ruth and Morena ("Mo") into the cold, supporters filled the Rivermoor Golf Club on Jan. 11 for a fundraiser to benefit the fire victims, the nonprofit Absolutely Waterford — which has an office adjacent to the Martini MO'z building — and other neighboring homes.
The days after the fire have felt like weeks for Ruth and Mo. From waking up early in the morning of Jan. 3 surrounded by smoke, pounding on her mom's door and grabbing what they could, the two sat in their car near the building until a gas meter popped and a sheriff's deputy told them, "You need to get out of here." Blocks away, they watched fire trucks race past. Ruth saw her kitchen above the bar on fire and knew "it's done," she said.
Support started that night as the doors of Love Inc. thrift store opened for Ruth and Mo to take what they needed for clothing. Any donations they've received since then that they can't use are "going straight back to Love Inc. to return the favor," said Ruth.
As Ruth watched her Facebook updates on the fire quickly gain thousands of likes, the outpouring of support and response to the fundraiser have left her speechless.
"It's incredibly overwhelming and so humbling," said Ruth. "It's insane."
The apartment above Martini MO'z was home for Ruth and Mo for 14 years, she said; now they are looking at a fresh start.
"It can't really get any worse," said Ruth. "It's got to get better from here."
Maureen Vander Sanden, marketing director at Absolutely Waterford, is also looking at the positive side. While the office is a loss, the organization had the ability to work remotely and had their computers at home at the time of the fire. Firefighters were also able to recover paper files stored in a cabinet during the blaze.
"From where the fire originated, our office was the furthest point, so our damage was mostly water and smoke, but it was still a loss," Vander Sanden said.
Vander Sanden said Morena Marquez's generosity is part of what made their goal of having space in the downtown heritage district possible.
"We're a new organization operating on a shoestring budget. Even having that space, we were so thankful. Mo gave us that space at a very modest rate, and when we had some struggles toward the end of 2013 she gave us three months' free rent," Vander Sanden said.
According to Vander Sanden, many local businesses have offered the use of temporary space, which they are grateful for. They are still looking for a more permanent solution.
"Our desire is to stay in the downtown heritage district, which is the focus of Absolutely Waterford," Vander Sanden said. "There have been a number of businesses who have offered us space, and we are very thankful for that."
Vander Sanden said the board has called many emergency meetings to discuss their future, and until then both she and executive director Michelle Bores-Stockton will continue to work remotely.
It takes a village
Katy Engels of the Waterford Area Chamber of Commerce said although it's uncertain how many people or businesses were affected by the fire, that didn't stop anyone.
A group quickly formed calling themselves "Friends of Martini MO's" and within hours had a Facebook page and planning meeting scheduled. They approached the Chamber about helping them to raise funds and Engels quickly agreed.
The group gained more than 1,500 facebook likes and just a week after the fire held a fundraiser at Rivermoor Golf Course that helped to raise money for the victims of the fire through dozens of generously donated raffle prizes and auction items.
One organizer, Judy Spencer, recounted that only one day after the fire she was astounded to see more than 60 people in attendance at a last-minute meeting to organize the fundraiser.
"In the back of my head I knew they needed help now. I was kind of overwhelmed of how we could do this in a week's time, but we just ran with it," Spencer said. "It was a huge community effort and the love of Mo and Ruthie and Absolutely Waterford. "
There was no official count of those in attendance at the Jan. 11 fundraiser, but Spencer noticed they had reached capacity several times throughout the event.
The fund to help the fire victims officially closed Friday, Jan. 17, but as of our press deadline Wednesday, more than $28,000 had been raised.
"We would like anyone who feels they are a victim of the fire to contact our office," said Engels. "In the next two weeks or so, our board will review the information that's submitted and focus on getting the money out (to those affected)."
Those affected by the fire are encouraged to contact the Waterford Area Chamber of Commerce at (262) 534-5911.
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