Realtors offer aid to Dover Baytree fire victims

Verna Uptigrow, a resident who was displaced in an April 2 fire at Baytree Apartment Homes in Dover, receives an assistance check from the Kent County Association of Realtors on Monday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — While the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has made everyone’s life change in different ways over the past couple of months, the life-altering experience felt by the displaced residents of the Baytree Apartment Homes following a fire at the complex on April 2 is unimaginable.

Through it all, neighbors are still finding ways to help each other throughout these difficult times.

On Monday, the Kent County Association of Realtors (KCAR) invited 24 of those impacted Baytree residents to drive by their office in the Silver Lake Office Park in Dover where they distributed $185 per family to those who were affected by the early morning blaze.

Monica Le Blanc, president and interim CEO of KCAR, said the group of realtors started a GoFundMe account for the victims immediately after the fire. Fortunately, no one was injured in the scary event, but the blaze displaced residents from elementary school age to 81 and left all of them reeling.

“We raised $4,300 — minus the GoFundMe fee — so we distributed around $185 per family,” Ms. Le Blanc said. “We just knew we had to reach out to these individuals and offer whatever help we could.”

The April fire at Baytree Apartment Homes destroyed 24 residences inside two buildings that were condemned following the fire.

The city of Dover and Red Cross of Delmarva immediately sprang into action to assist the victims. About 50 people living at the complex in East Dover received supplies and shelter to cushion the sudden shock of losing their homes. Also, 21 pets (dogs and cats) were forced out.

In recent weeks, several community organizations have reached out to the residents to lend a hand.

Verna Uptigrow, a former Baytree resident, was thankful for all the support through what has been the most challenging time in her life.

“Not only was it tough, I was at work at the time (of the fire) and a co-worker came running to me and said, ‘Hey is this your apartment complex?’ and I was like, ‘What?’,” she said. “So then to make it so bad under this pandemic, I’m an essential worker. I work for the Blood Bank of Delmarva and I’m one of the mobile drivers. I was at work here in Dover and luckily my daughter (Nina), my dog and everybody was just frazzled.

“We ended up in a hotel that Thursday and that Friday my mother-in-law died from COVID in New York, that Sunday was my birthday, and it was just a mess. What mattered to me the most was that what was precious to me was safe. I’ve lived here in Dover almost eight years and the family that I moved here with all died within a year. So it was my daughter and I, and we’re the only two in the state and we have no family. Eight years of my life were gone.”

Ms. Uptigrow, who moved from New York City, said she has been touched by the goodwill.

“It’s just been so eventful,” she said. “Just the outreach really has brought a lot of tears to my eyes and all I can say is God is good and there are still good people in this world. It’s just wonderful. It does your heart good. So, whenever I can, I pay it forward, whether it’s a cup of coffee or whatever I can offer.”

Faith Levan, another Baytree resident, had a memorable story of what’s been a wild ride these past couple months.

“It’s been really helpful,” Ms. Levan said, of the support. “I was actually nine months pregnant when (the fire) happened, so we lost the whole nursery — we lost everything. It was horrible. So to have so many people coming together, it’s been wonderful.

“One of first things we did after the fire was, we went to the apartment manager and got another apartment a week later. We were only out of an apartment for a week.”

Then, on April 16, she gave birth to her son, Jimmy.

Monica Le Blanc, left, and Jean Dowding, both from the Kent County Association of Realtors, disperse checks on Monday to help residents impacted by the April 2 fire that took place at Baytree Apartment Homes in Dover,

Rachel Hamelin also drove through the line at KCAR to pick up her assistance gift from the realtors.

“I’m so grateful,” she said. “This whole last year has really been difficult since I’ve been through a divorce and then with the fire it was overwhelming. But the amount of support that the community has given us is unbelievable. Everybody’s been willing to donate whatever they have really just to help us out.”

Jean Dowding, president-elect of KCAR, said that being the victim of a fire should not determine what a person’s future turns out to be.

“Most people don’t think (realtors) do more than just take people out and show houses. But this community is our community,” Ms. Dowding said.

“And just like them, when everybody is sheltered at home and are separated, it’s important for people to understand we know that where they are right now is not where they’re going to be always.

“Their conditions right now does not in any way dictate their destiny.”

Area churches assist victims

Late last month, churches in the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Kent Ecumenical Organization purchased gift cards for families who were impacted by the fire. A total of 13 $100 gift cards were given to the residents who were either still residing at a hotel or that the Red Cross referred.

The gift cards were presented on site by IMA Social Action Chair The Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige and member Justina Brewington-Comer. Kay Sass, from the Dover mayor’s office, was also present. According to Rev. Paige and Ms. Comer, all the families were appreciative of receiving the cards and were grateful to know that the churches cared about them.

The following churches participated: Dover Christian Church, the Rev. Theodore Henderson, pastor; New Beginnings Community AME Church, Frederica, the Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige, pastor; Calvary Baptist Church, Bishop W. James Thomas, pastor; Wesley United Methodist Church, the Rev. Amy Yarnall, pastor; Mt. Zion AME Church, the Rev. Dr. Erika Crawford, pastor; Central Baptist Church, the Rev. Michael Rogers, pastor; Mt. Carmel Church of the Living God, Bishop Nelson Lewis, pastor and Union Missionary Baptist Church, Bishop Doreina Miles, pastor.