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‘We lost everything’

Community aids Valley Stream family in need

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When Qumyka Howell pulled up to her North Valley Stream home on Feb. 25, she saw flames shooting out of the basement.

The fire, she said, started from the dryer, and quickly spread to the second-floor, and because of fire, smoke and water damage, much of the home must be re-built.

“We lost all of our possessions, our personal belongings,” Howell said. “We lost everything.”

Now, Howell and her two children are staying at a hotel in Lynbrook, paid for by the American Red Cross, while their house is being re-built. Her sons are continuing to attend school at Shaw Avenue Elementary School and Memorial Junior High School, although, Howell’s friend JooSoo Kim said, they did not have any school supplies immediately after the fire.

Kim, who knows Howell as a member of the Civilian Patrol and as a founding member of the North Valley Stream Association, also said that the family has been eating out for three meals a day since the fire because they lack a kitchen.

To help, Kim decided she would raise funds for the family. “JooSoo was just devastated when she found out, and said we had to do something,” said Dawn Tortora-Morici, who despite only meeting Howell a few times, decided to help. “I just wanted to reach out and do what I could.”

Together, Kim and Tortora-Morici organized a Valley Stream-wide fundraiser. For her part, Kim reached out to the principals of Shaw Avenue and Memorial, who she said were “very, very responsive” and “very supportive.”

At Shaw Avenue, Principal Alejandro Rivera said, families and staff members raised money and donated clothes to the family.

“It was important to everyone in the school to show our support,” he said. He declined to say how much the elementary school raised, but Memorial Principal Brett Straus said the school’s staff collected more than $500 for the Howell family. He also said that the school’s eighth-grade council donated “a significant amount of money.”

“We’re one big family,” Straus said. “When somebody needs help, we’ll all chip in.”

But, he added, “We’re trying to keep everything as normal and as regular as possible for the student and his family.”

Meanwhile, on March 2 Tortora-Morici created a GoFundMe page and a little more than a week later it raised more than $1,000 for the family.

For their help, Howell said she was grateful. “It means so much to know that my community cares about me,” she said. “It just reminds me that Valley Stream is one of the best places for families.”

To donate to Tortora-Morici’s GoFundMe, visit https://bit.ly/2CpyNRB