Donations pour in after fire devastates families

November 7, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Neighbors of the fire victims gathered necessities for the survivors Sunday.

The fire broke out in an apartment building on Chicago's West Side Saturday and killed a 3-year-old boy. The boy's father and little sister were injured.

The call went out to help, and in just three hours, two rooms inside a Pilsen park district field house were filled with bags of clothing and toys, donated by strangers, mostly, and residents who wanted to help the families left homeless. The fire not only gutted their home, but also killed 3-year-old Michael Cruz Jr.

The toddler posed with his father for a Halloween photo just one week ago.

"I still can't believe he is gone. I can't believe we are homeless. It is so hard," said grandmother Yolanda Lopez.

Lopez was not home Saturday afternoon when the fire killed her grandson and critically injured the toddler's father and his 18-month-old daughter. The fire started on the second floor and quickly spread to third and fourth floors and a coach house.

Twenty relatives lived in the building, including 12 children. The outpouring of donations has been overwhelming for the Lopez and Cruz families.

"I'm glad there are still people out there with kind hearts, at least for the kids' sake," relative Luis said

Neighbors Tina Iturralde and Kimberly Escamilla spearheaded the donation drive.

"I have five kids, and I can empathize. Obviously, we can't replace the loss of a child. We can help replace belongings," said Iturralde.

"I had a fire in 1995, and I lost everything," Escamilla said.

Well into Sunday night, people continued to drop off donations. Still, Yolanda Lopez said she couldn't stop thinking about her 3-year-old grandson.

"We shouldn't be burying our sons, our grandkids. They should be burying us," Lopez said. "I would give anything. I wish it was me instead of my grandson."

Lopez's son, Michael Cruz Sr., is hospitalized at Loyola Medical Center, and his 18-month-old daughter is at Stroger hospital. Lopez says the father tried to save his 3-year-old son, but part of the ceiling fell on him and knocked him out.

Because the family was without insurance, Ald. Danny Solis sayshe is trying to figure out what services the city can provide.

The fire department had not determined a cause for the fire Sunday, but family members told ABC7 Chicago it could have had something to do with a heater.

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