In less than a week, the Victims of the Ashwood Fire Fund has collected more than $2,500 to aid the 20 people left homeless after the April 16 fire. Just blocks away from the group’s meeting place, student Jim Buell had no idea that more than $130 of this money would be reserved just for him.
“I heard about the fund a couple of days ago,” Buell said. “I read that the VAFF was giving money to victims, but I haven’t heard anything from them yet.”
One reason is that because of privacy concerns, Ashwood Apartments did not give out the names and addresses of the victims, even to philanthropic groups like the Victims of the Ashwood Fire Fund. This makes it difficult for the fund organizers to find the people it has worked so hard to help.
“We’re not allowed to disclose a list of names without consent of the tenant,” said Joyce Morse, operations administrator of the Ashwood Apartments. “All we can do is take the information from the group and give it to the tenants, and then they would have to contact the group themselves.”
Persephone Dakopolos of the Missouri International Students Council said that she hopes the press coverage would make the victims aware and bring them in to get relief.
“Originally, we hoped to work with the university to get contact information, but the school doesn’t know who the students are because they live off campus,” Dakopolos said. “Now we’re working through the management of the apartments. They act as an intermediary.”
Council member Artitaya Jantaraprapa said that networking has helped the group gain contacts.
“We’ve gotten a hold of several of them already,” Jantaraprapa said. “We find someone who knows someone who knows someone. And we’ve got two names from the news.”
But in this way, the group may have a hard time contacting students like Buell who said that he and his roommate don’t even know the names of the other victims.
“I don’t know how they’re going to get a hold of everyone,” Buell said.
He is currently staying on a friend’s couch and estimates his losses at around $2,000.
“You don’t think about the basic things you always need to get by like shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant. I’ve been able to pay for that, but I don’t know if the other victims have.”
The cost of property damage is another issue for the group. Because the council (along with the Japanese Student Association and the International Programming Committee) had to coordinate the campaign quickly, getting attention for the fundraising has been hard work.
As the $2,500 goal was met, the number of students in need has lessened the relief money into small sums of just over $100.
“The purpose of the money is to tide them over until their insurance kicks in, if they have it,” said Ashley Spratt, another council member.
Some, like Buell, did not have renter’s insurance to cover the damages.
According to local insurance agents like Steve Wilson, few college students have renter’s insurance.
“It’s not something we deal with a whole lot,” said Wilson, an agent at Plaza Insurance in Columbia. “We write them once in a while, but we rarely get a claim. If we get a half dozen claims a year from students, it’d be surprising.”
Luckily, Buell’s parents’ insurance kicked in, as did his roommate’s, he said. Other students, however, may not have that option.
“Students sometimes live semester by semester, on grants and loans,” said Dakopolos. “If it’d happened to me, I would’ve been out of luck because I support myself without my parents’ help.”
Dakopolos and the fund organizers encourage community members to donate through today, either at the drop-box at Brady Commons or with a credit card online at ashwoodfirefund.org. Tonight, the group will divide the total amount and prepare checks for the students.