There’s one phone call Ana Anderson will never forget.
It was Jan. 6, and Anderson was on the train with her 9-year-old daughter Shyla, when a neighbor called to say a fire had broken out in her apartment.
Stunned by the news, Anderson and Shyla hopped off the train and into a cab, racing straight home. But between the stress and tears, Anderson had missed their street and couldn’t answer her driver’s questions.
“He kept asking me for directions and I just remember telling him, ‘Sir my house is on fire, just take me home,’” Anderson said.
Home is an apartment at 6035 Broadway where Anderson lived with her husband Antonio, and their children, Shyla, and 5-year-old Greysen.
When Anderson and Shyla finally made it out of the cab, they saw four fire trucks and two ambulances outside. Antonio and Greysen were safe, but Anderson’s bedroom had completely gutted, and there was significant damage throughout the apartment.
“It didn’t register that my house was gone,” Anderson said. “I (wasn’t) thinking it was going to be to the extent that it was when I arrived in the cab.”
Anderson learned the fire started in her bedroom. Greysen — who is autistic and nonverbal — had been in the room and began screaming when the couple’s comforter caught fire.
Antonio tried to salvage the comforter by putting it in the bathtub and turning onthe shower. But it wasn’t enough — the fire kept growing. All Antonio could do was close the door and start yelling to his neighbors they needed to evacuate.
The initial shock was hard to wear off at first, especially after Anderson and Antonio had just discussed fire safety following last December’s apartment building fire that killed 12 people in Belmont.
Anderson noted that although Greysen was in the room, he’s never been attracted to fire. And because of his autism, he doesn’t have the motor skills to play with matches.
“I was just in shock because those things don’t happen to you,” Anderson said. “I would’ve thought that I would have taken every precaution. We live a normal life.”
The fire’s cause is still under investigation, Anderson said, and there’s a chance it was something electrical. But Anderson won’t know anytime soon.
Since the fire, the Anderson family has stayed with her mother near Yankee Stadium. Anderson and her husband have been trying to figure how to rebuild their home since they own the apartment and don’t have homeowner’s insurance. It could take up to four months to fix the apartment’s structural damage and replace fixtures like cabinets, the toilet and bathtub.
But here’s where the community steps in.
Melissa Gonzalez, Anderson’s neighbor at 6035 Broadway, was home with her family when the fire occurred, but they all made it out safe and suffered no damage. The smoke had barely cleared when Gonzalez saw a building notice encouraging tenants to donate.
So far, neighbors have raised close to $5,000 and have added clothes, food and transportation.
The overwhelming charity from Gonzalez’s neighbors inspired her to take the next generous step. She started a GoFundMe page where people can donate to the Anderson family online, which has since raised more than $4,000 of its $10,000 goal.
“I knew that the 6035 Broadway community would respond well to the call for donations, and it occurred to me that an outreach to the Riverdale community could result in a larger impact,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s generosity also stems from personal loss. Her father passed away from colon cancer when she was 12, and it was her neighbors who helped her and her family get through that tough time.
“Helping the Andersons is just one of the ways in which I can pay it forward,” Gonzalez said. “As I mentioned it to Ana, the only expectation is that as adults, Shyla and Greyson find opportunities to lend a hand to their community.”
Antonio’s sister, Antoinette Anderson, also made a GoFundMe page to support the family. Anderson and Antonio are alumni of Syracuse University, and Antonio briefly played for the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive lineman, so Antoinette made the page in hopes of attracting alums and players who could help out. The page has raised more than $12,000 of its $50,000 goal.
Even though Anderson has donated to others on the platform, it was tough for her to agree for one for her family because she felt like it would make her feel vulnerable. But it was Gonzalez who reminded her the fire was an accident.
“If it wasn’t for the GoFundMe funds, I don’t know how we were going to pay for the fixtures and all of these other things in the cleanup that we’re going to be responsible for,” Anderson said.
The neighborhood support is overwhelming, Anderson said — in a good way. Even people at Shyla’s school, P.S. 81 Robert Christen, have lent a helping hand.
“I’ve just been pretty shocked at how people have been responding to” the fire, she said. “I was no longer crying over anything that I lost. Whenever I cry now, I cry over how kind people are.”
Anderson said she couldn’t have asked for a different experience over the last couple weeks.
“Despite everything we hear in the news and in spite of all the evil that you read about, there (are) so (many) good people out there,” she said. “It’s not that I’m surprised, because I always read about kindness and kind things. But now to be on the receiving end, it’s one lesson that I’ll never forget.”