Victims of the Elmwood Court fire last May say they haven't seen anything from a fundraiser that was held for them.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — While community efforts to aid the tenants displaced by the pre-Christmas Plunkett Avenue fire have been loudly praised, some victims of another much-publicized fire last year may not have been so fortunate.
Some tenants of the historic Elmwood Court apartment building on Bartlett Avenue, which was devastated by fire on May 14, 2011, say they never received any of the money, clothing and other items donated at a fundraiser also held at Chameleons nightclub in Pittsfield.
"It's been seven months, and I haven't received anything," said William Massacani, who lived in Apartment 2 in the building at 149 153 Bartlett.
Following the fire, Chameleons nightclub publicly offered on Facebook to host a benefit for those affected by the blaze, which displaced all of its more than 40 residents in 24 apartments. The benefit was held on May 28, featured a live band, and cost $10 to attend. Attendees report it was significantly less crowded than the more recent fire benefit on Dec. 27.
"After the benefit, myself and numerous other people called them [Chameleons], even left them messages on Facebook," said Massacani. "They kept telling us they were awaiting a list of names from the Red Cross, when they could have just called the landlord, and he willingly would have given over all the names."
Another tenant, Amanda Rae Busch, who lived in the apartment most directly below the origin of the fire, also said she has not received anything from the benefit event.
"I haven't heard anything since that night," said Busch, "They took down our information the night of the benefit, those of us that were there. I know at least one person brought something specifically earmarked for me."
Chameleons owner Don Sweener said everything raised at the May benefit was turned over to the Salvation Army for distribution.
"We had no concrete list of who was in the apartments at all," Sweener told iBerkshires. "Nobody came forward to us with any information as far as who actually lived there. We actually had some people coming in saying they lived there, when actually they didn't."
Sweener told iBerkshires "the banks, and the authorities, and even the Fire Department, they said, 'Hey, just give it to the Salvation Army, let them distribute it,' because no one was forthcoming with information."
"There was tons of clothes, and stuff like that, that was donated. I think the amount that was actually collected at the door was a little over $500," said Sweener.
In contrast to the more recent benefit event organized by Andy Poncherello, Sweener said of the May benefit, "Nobody official, nobody political was involved in that, we just opened our doors, and collected the clothes and the money and gave it to the Salvation Army. And we've told people that countless times, as far as what has been done."
"As far as how it was distributed, I don't know. We told people where to go, and that was it."
Multiple tenants of 149 Bartlett said this is the first they've heard of that.
Ann Di Nicola, said she contacted the nightclub repeatedly about the benefit and never received a response. "I called them, I left messages, I actually hand wrote a letter with my address, my daughter's address, my phone number. I never got any response. Never."
Di Nicola said her daughter commented on the club's Facebook profile about the money from the benefit, only to find herself defriended. While looking into it, Di Nicola said she had seen Facebook comments from several other tenants inquiring as well. Currently, no comments about the benefit are to be found on the nightclub's Facebook from the weeks following the benefit. Nor were there any posts to be found by the nightclub itself regarding the results, announcements or directions for the victims of the fire.
Di Nicola told iBerkshires while she had received $180 from the Salvation Army, she believed that this was before the Chameleons benefit, and drawn from funds donated by local banks and businesses. She said that Chameleons never referred her to Salvation Army, nor responded in any way.
Berkshire Bank Foundation President Peter Lafayette confirmed that $1,000 was given by the bank to these aid efforts, and other businesses are known to have contributed funds as well.
As for confusion about the identities of the tenants, Di Nicola says "All they had to do was talk to Cavalier Management. It was in all the news articles, that Cavalier Management owns the building. It was on the sign in front of the building, or they could have asked the fire department who manages the building. It was all they needed to do."
Pittsfield Salvation Army director Maj. James Fletcher said he's just arrived in July, taking over well after the event took place, and was not personally familiar with the situation, though he promised to look into it.
A call to Cavalier Management was not readily returned.
Pittsfield Red Cross's new director of disaster services, Thomas Pfeifer, said none of the people who were involved in relief efforts for the Bartlett Avenue tenants back in May are still with the organization, so there was limited light he could shine on those efforts. He believed that they had been confined to aid given just following the fire.
"I'm not aware of any connection between Red Cross and the Bartlett Avenue fire victims other than the immediate emergency relief given," said Pfeifer. That relief included some prepaid Visa gift cards distributed to tenants to help them purchase clothes and other immediate essentials lost in the blaze.
Busch and Massacani both gratefully acknowledged the help that Red Cross had given in the early aftermath of the fire.
"The Red Cross was awesome," said Busch. "Above and beyond, they called later to check up and everything. Beyond the modest financial help, it was also very comforting."
All three of the tenants who spoke to iBerkshires expressed dismay over the handling of the nightclub fundraiser and subsequent communication with tenants.
"I feel like something should happen about this, no matter what. If lawyers have to be involved, then maybe it has to come to that," said Massacani.
Even the smallest contribution from the benefit fundraiser would have helped, said Di Nicola, who spent four months sleeping on a friend's couch following the disaster, but at this point it's the principle that most bothers her.
"First of all, I feel like it's false advertising. Secondly, it gave me hope. And then to not even get a phone call back," she said through tears. "It's not right. It's just not right."
Update, Jan. 4, 2012, 10:19 p.m.: After checking internally, Maj. James Fletcher has reiterated in an email his belief that the Salvation Army was not involved in relief efforts for the Bartlett Avenue tenants. With regards to funds from the benefit in question, "No one of our staff is aware that we ever received any such funds. We have not been called to provide services for the fire victims."
Fletcher said it was possible that their organization and the Red Cross had become mixed up. "People often confuse our agencies."
Indeed, tenant Ann Di Nicola called contacted us Wednesday to clarify that she had meant to say the money she received just following the fire had been from the Red Cross, not the Salvation Army. This corresponds to accounts of other tenants of 153 Bartlett Ave.
Since the publication, an exchange on Chameleons Facebook has attracted additional individuals who say they were tenants of the fire inquiring about benefit funds. The nightclub defended its actions, saying they were unable to obtain names from either Red Cross or Cavalier Management.
"I am sorry for everyones losses, and never have been involved in that kind of fundraising, before I really had no clue what to do. The Salvation Army accepted tons of donations of items from us and the money, I am sorry if it was never distributed," the nightclub posted on its Facebook. Chameleons once again stated that the funds and "tons" of other material items were handed over to the Salvation Army. "The Salvation Army on Dalton Avenue accepted our donations after we were turned away from the one on West St."
Nonetheless, the nightclub has offered to compensate any former tenants who come forward to the nightclub with proof of residency, in a proportionate amount to what they say was generated in cash donations at the May 28 event.
"Little over $500 was raised. When divided out by the 40 people living there, it comes out to $12.50 per person. Because we feel so bad for this and want to help everyone out. Please stop by with a valid ID and a copy of a May 2011 utility bill of yours while you were living there. And we will give you $12.50. This is the best way we can help to make this right."
Chameleons is located at 1350 East St. For hours, contact information or additional comments from the establishment about the fundraiser, see its Facebook profile.
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Great article on this disaster, I hope it leads to a resolution for these people!
It's unfortunate that this has turned into a case of everyone passing the buck. The club says it passed the money to the Salvation Army, the Salvation Army guy "came in after the event" and has no clue what happened to the money, the Red Cross says it has no clue because of employee turnover... this is ridiculous. The club initiated this event, and they are responsible for knowing where every dollar went, plain and simple. It's very likely that some people benefited from this, while others were swept aside and whatever money was left was just absorbed into the Salvation Army's budget. You know what they say about the road to hell.
This was the facebook message I got in response to me questioning where the donations went:
June 18, 2011
Soma DiNicola SAYS:
"Since you deleted my comment, I would like a list of who you gave donations to regarding the bartlett ave fire. My mother was a victim and left several messages and for some reason you all failed to even contact her back. I would really like you to clear this up with me since you have failed to respond to any of my inquiries."
June 19, 2011
Chameleon Pittsfield SAYS:
"The red cross has kind of given us the run around about privacy with names, so i finally got the number of apartments that were affected in the bldg and will have my act. cut checks to have this week. Also the household items, we were not assured until friday that things dropped off for Bartlett ave would go only to those ppl . Everything will be dropped at S.A. on West St tomorrow. Sorry for the time lapse, red tape is counter-productive."
All my best,
VERY POOR story, no need to rush writing it as it is OLD news , wait for a response from Pittsfield Salvation Army director Maj. James Fletcher
as you say "he promised to look into it"
This sounds like Iberkshires.com has an issue with Chameleons, this one piece really dropped my opinion of the source
To bad there is not 1 news reporting company in this area just all opinion artical
to Chameleons, Don't let this stop you from trying to do good, just make sure you get proof of everything, so you can prove you are doing good. sucks but some people will sue you over $12.50 sad world we live in,
I contacted Chameleons several times following the benefit for the Bartlett Ave fire victims, some of whom were my family and friends.I was never told to contact the Salvation Army. They told me that the Red Cross was involved with giving them the names of the people. When I went to the Red Cross to check, staff there said that they were not involved at all with the benefit and could not give them the names because of privacy issues. As part of the fund raiser, Chameleons had a raffle. I asked who the winners were and never heard anything. As another poster stated, the benefit was not that well attended, but I did know some of the people that were there. No one I know won anything. Just stating the facts. Again as someone previous stated, it's the principle more than the actual money. There were good intentions by all but the result and total lack of communication was very unfortunate. Hopefully, the people of Chameleons learned a bit about organizing benefits.
i lived in apartment 12a during this fire my bedroom was actually in the paper and my apartment was so bad that they would not let us even on the floor it was in... everything was lost. im still trying to recover from this seeing how ll my important paperwork and records of any accomplishment i have ever made dont exist nymore. and then to hear that plunkett avenues fire got all this attention its almost like whoa!, hey there what about us were still trying to get our lives straight with very little assistance from anyone and for chameleons to use our tragedy for publicity and then not give back what they received its a shame. i have reched out to the sweeners through facebook multiple times to no effect or response. so if you wanna talk heres the place to do it let it all out because i feel hosed.
It's a little difficult to accuse iBerkshires of having an ax to grind against Chameleons when it just published a very positive piece on another benefit there just a week earlier.
Regarding "what I donated", well, that's rather low, considering that I've attended 3 different benefit events at this same establishment in the last 3 months, and contributed an auction item of significant value at the last. Regrettably (and irrelevantly) I was not able to attend the May event, though in retrospect it doesn't seem my attendance would have made any difference to the people the benefit was for.
Since I'm 90% sure this was posted by an employee of Chameleons let me say directly that this was in no way personal. A lot of people seem to want to know what happened. The public, especially tenants of 153 Bartlett, have a reasonable right to know what can be known about this, and every party involved has been given an equal chance to have input.
People will make up their own minds what to think about it.
If I were a victim of this fire I'd tell Chameleon's where they can shove that $12.50
It's sad that 40 or so victims get the shaft yet when Mr. White and Mom lost some pets in their house fire, there was about $4,000 donated...
$2,000 per person is a little nicer than $12.50 wouldn't you say???
I would like to add onto the email I posted yesterday. After receiving the email from Chameleons I called Red Cross and Salcvation Army later in the week to see if donations had been made and both places stated they never received anything. The point of this matter is when you are putting on an even and raise money for a benefit you should make sure the money goes to the victims. It sounds a bit odd how no one has a clue where it went. Who hands over cash without a receipt of some kind? Who refuses to contact the victims? Who deletes someone off of a internet social page after questioning their actions adn the outcome of the benefit? And now that it is in the public eye you say you will throw another benefit only to raise what was originally raised? Why not try to raise more since you supposedly didn't have a great turn out at the first one? This whole thing does not make any sense. And it is not about the money. It is about these vicitims!
Chameleons held the event, did they not? They should ultimately be the ones responsible for getting the $ and goods to the victims. To basically sweep this under the rug for several months is atrocious. They should have come clean from the get go, whether the goods were stolen or "lost" and let the public know what was going on. There's a good chance the same people would have donated again with new people showing up to donate for the first time. Look at what happened during Christmas of 2010 near Boston. Someone robbed a PODS containing a lot of Toys 4 Tots donations, the ensuing donations were probably 4-5 times as much as that which was stolen.
No...They are responsible for making good because they KNEW the donations were either stolen or lost, and instead of informing the public of what happened and imploring them to donate again, they brushed it to the side...Only now, however many months later, when it's brought to the attention of the community that this happened, do they hold another event for those victims? Too little, too late...They're only trying to save face...
Jay I read about how people of 1 house fire make out more in donations then others. My family had a house fire started by our tenant. We had damage but our tenant lost everything. I always see these organizations running charity events like (this person has cancer.This person had a fire or such and such. But where was our event,or better yet where was our tenants event. I guess it just depends what your last name is,or who you know. We didn't even get a bucket at the supermarket to put pocket change in.
another fire victim - You hit it RIGHT on the head. It's sickening how charity has become nothing more than a popularity contest. Hypothetically, Family 1 is low-income family barely squeaking by and Family 2 is an upper middle class family with ties to local businesses and politicians. Family 1's home is gutted in a fire, everything is lost. Family 2's home has suffered smoke/water damage, but overall about 80% of their belongings are salvageable. They both have events to help raise donations. There is NO WAY anyone can tell me that the support for Family 1 would even come close to that of Family 2. Even though Family 1 NEEDS the support exponentially more, people need their "facetime" to show that they donated when Family 2 dealt with a tragedy. Who you know plays a huge part, I guess people can just chalk it up to another instance in which "life isn't fair". Charity should be helping others who can't help themselves, NOT helping others to receive a pat on the back from your peers.
If you're talking about the Plunkett Ave fire benefit, I wouldn't call that a "popularity contest" so much as when a couple of people spend their whole lives tirelessly championing and giving of themselves to a community, there tends to be a lot of people who turn out to pay it back.
These apples-to-oranges comparisons of different situations are getting tiresome.