NAUGATUCK — When their apartments went up in flames Dec. 7, 35-year-old Rosie Melendez and 29-year-old Anais Gonzalez lost nearly everything.
“All my stuff, to me it’s valuable,” Melendez said. “It’s gone. Everything I worked so hard for.”
Melendez and Gonzalez lived in Building 8 of Southwood Apartments, 933 Rubber Ave., where a maintenance worker started a fire last week while using a blowtorch to melt glue off tiles in Melendez’s bathroom, which abuts Gonzalez’s bathroom.
Fire officials said the bathrooms were total losses, and Melendez and Gonzalez said smoke and water damage destroyed almost everything the flames did not.
Hearing the news, Tina Dambowsky, a longtime friend of Melendez, has organized a benefit tomorrow at Cook’s Cafe downtown to take money and donations for the victims.
Melendez has lived in the complex for 18 years, most recently in a three-bedroom apartment with her three children. Gonzalez has lived there on and off for about 15 years, recently also in a three-bedroom apartment with her mother and two children.
Both women said their families lost all their furniture and most of their appliances. Melendez said she lost a 46-inch flat screen television and gold jewelry.
Their biggest needs, they said, are mattresses, sofas and Christmas presents for the children. Both said they had already gone Christmas shopping, but the presents did not survive the fire.
Dambowsky said holiday gifts would be the highest priority to buy with the money raised.
“I just want them to have a good Christmas and be comfortable,” Dambowsky said.
A third woman’s apartment sustained smoke damage and she had to move but did not lose any valuables, Dambowsky said. The benefit will also cover the costs of getting her clothes cleaned, Dambowsky said.
The benefit will start tomorrow at 1 p.m. and tickets can be purchased at the door for $10, but donations exceeding that amount are appreciated, the women said. The price includes food, and a 50/50 raffle and other prize raffles will be held to benefit the families, Dambowsky said. A DJ will also volunteer his time, Dambowsky said. The cafe is at 203 Church St., but participants should enter from Old Firehouse Road.
The event can be found on Facebook under the title, “Benefit for families affected by the fire at Southwood Apartments,” and hundreds are expected to attend.
Dambowsky has posted the family members’ clothing sizes and the children’s Christmas wishes on the page, and an address where donations can be sent for people who cannot attend the fundraiser.
Melendez and Gonzalez said community members, their children’s schools, the youth services department and even random strangers had already donated some clothes, furniture and money.
“It’s been amazing,” Gonzalez said. “Now we’re just going up from here.”