Hunter and her family were impacted by the devastating Bronx fire that ravaged an East 181st Street apartment building on Jan. 9, killing 17 residents and injuring many others.
“For a long time we were feeling ignored, so this is a ray of sunshine, and we appreciate y’all a lot,” she said.
Four members of the New York Giants—Shaun O’Hara, Plaxico Burress, Kerry Wynn, and David Tyree—joined members of the Fordham community in distributing backpacks filled with toys, education supplies, tablets with internet access, and other items for families who had been impacted by the fire. The event was geared particularly toward the residents who were not property owners in the building and therefore hadn’t benefitted from other events meant to help the victims, according to Julie Gafney, executive director of Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning.
Gafney said that the goal of the center is to help build a bridge between Fordham and its neighboring communities and create ways to work together—something that is extremely necessary in a time of crisis.
“This responsibility is particularly clear to us when any of our neighbors encounters or faces a tragic or traumatic event, like our neighbors over on 181st Street in Tremont, who suffered the effects of the devastating fire last month,” she said.
A ‘Giant’ Effort
Since 2019, Fordham and the New York Giants have been engaged in a partnership that provides academic programming, internships, marketing opportunities, and joint community service efforts that support both Fordham students and the neighboring communities.
O’Hara said that he and the other Giants were glad to give back to their New York community and make sure the fire victims knew there were people looking our for them.
“I think we all feel like it was a privilege to play in the NFL and certainly to play for the New York Giants, and one of those privileges that I think you appreciate is the community,” he said. “Today is just a great opportunity to give back to our surrounding communities and let them know that we care about them. And anytime you see community members in need—we’re going to go assist them. We want them to know that they’re not in this alone.”
Kweesam Wood, who lived in the building that caught fire, said that he was grateful for the participating organizations and the Giants players for being there.
“A lot of us think that nobody cared about us, so to see something like this—to see people come out, for the New York Giants to come out, it was very good to see,” he said.
Students Glad for Chance to Help
Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning gathered backpack items for students who were affected by the fire in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. Fordham students volunteered to help stuff the bags at Rose Hill and distribute them at Monroe College–which has served as a temporary emergency response center for families impacted by the fire.
“When this happens, it’s not their fault and they lose so much,” said Kamila Carpio, a junior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. “We just want to give back whatever we can for the people who can’t afford [these items]. It’s nice doing things like this.”
John Navarra, a first-year student at Fordham College at Rose Hill, said that when he saw an email about CCEL needing volunteers, he knew he wanted to help his community.
“I’m from the area and I know what happened with the fire so I thought it’d be a good opportunity,” he said.
Dael Ki, a first-year student from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, said that she was glad the students and the University as a whole could give back.
“If something like this happened to me or anyone that I knew—I would hope that the community would do the same for us,” Ki said. “I think it’s important as a school in general to give back to the overall community.”
For transfer student Kyle Rohrs, the event was an opportunity to fully immerse himself in his new Bronx home.
“It’s amazing to help out in the community that I recently moved into along with the school that I recently transferred to,” he said. “I think it’s extremely important to be there to help people who unfortunately have had to go through something as tragic as what happened here.”
Support from an Alumna
Joy Tolliver, FCRH ’04, and the vice president of governmental affairs for Monroe College, said she felt a responsibility to help these grieving families.
“As an attorney, as a higher education professional, I’m very passionate about helping the communities that are in need—I’m very passionate about making sure that underrepresented populations have access to the resources that they need to be successful,” said Tolliver, who helped coordinate the effort. “In this situation we have families who are in the midst of grief and the very least that we can do is provide them with materials and supplies.”
Tolliver said that being able to work with both Fordham and her current job was the “realization of a dream”—one that she hopes she’ll get to realize again.
“I look forward to many future partnerships with my alma mater and bridging my current work with all the great work that’s happening at Fordham,” she said.