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Community rallies to help victims of Clarke Street fire

A knock on the door changed Colin Swanson’s life. It also saved his life.
Colin Swanson
Colin Swanson, 29, gets his first look at what's left of his apartment above the Gallery Bistro in Port Moody on Tuesday after a fire destroyed the restaurant and a vacant heritage grocery store next door on Sunday. He said he's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community being extended to people impacted by the fire.

A knock on the door changed Colin Swanson’s life.

It also saved his life.

Swanson, 29, was napping on the couch in his apartment above the Gallery Bistro in Port Moody Sunday evening when he was awakened by the pounding from his neighbour alerting him the building was on fire.

He grabbed his cellphone and his wallet and got out — and that’s all he has left from his seven and a half years living there.

Swanson’s furniture, clothes, guitar and drum kit are all gone, destroyed in the fire. He has even lost mundane household items like a can opener. He has no insurance.

Swanson, who works for a demolition company, spent Sunday night at his sister’s home in New Westminster and is currently couch surfing at a friend’s. As he prepared to meet with Port Moody Police Victim Services Tuesday, he said he has no idea where to begin rebuilding his life.

“When you lose everything, where do you start?” Swanson said, adding the uncertainty of his living situation compounds the stress.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire that destroyed the bistro and the vacant former grocery store next door, and that displaced several residents in apartments above the businesses, Victim Services provided hotel accommodation for four people along with vouchers for food, clothing and incidentals as required, according to a spokesperson for the city. But that assistance extends for only 72 hours, with community agencies available to step in to help after that.

Already, GoFundMe campaigns have been established to help people affected by the fire.

Redstamp, a tech marketing agency based in Port Moody’s Suter Brook Village, and Jeff McLellan, a PoMo resident, have teamed up to create a campaign to support the residents left homeless. In its first two days, it already raised more than $3,000 towards its $5,000 goal.

A statement on the fundraising page said the money will go into a pool of funds that will be made available to assist the displaced residents once they’ve identified their needs; any leftover money will be donated to a local charity.

Frank Macoretta, a regional chef at Romer’s Burger Bar, also started a GoFundMe campaign to help out one of the restaurant’s employees, James Bannister. That effort is already halfway to its $5,000 goal.

As well, a friend of Bannister’s is working to collect donations of household items, clothes and furniture, as well as assistance for his cat and aging dog.

“The response from the community has been amazing,” said Sandy Martin, who’s providing her friend and his pets a place to stay. Already, she said she has fielded offers of clothing, a cat litter box and household items like dishes and a toaster. There has even been an offer of a freezer pack of meat from the manager of The Little Butcher in Newport Village.

Meanwhile, the owner of Gallery Bistro, Helen Daniels, said she hopes her restaurant’s nine employees will be able to find work locally as several are part-time or students and don’t have the means to travel far afield to earn an income. She said The Club, a drop-in centre for Port Moody seniors, has alerted her to an opening for a cook that she’s planning to pass along to her own cook.

“Their hard work has been vital to making the Bistro such a special place in the community,” Daniels said of her employees, many of whom she’s worked with for several years.

Swanson said the community support, that began as he watched his home burn when strangers were reaching out to help has been “overwhelming.” He said even the British Columbia Regiment, where he’s a reservist, is putting something together to help get him back on his feet.

“It’s really crazy,” Swanson said. “Everybody wants to help. It’s really our nature.”

• Donations to help James Bannister can be dropped off at #17-1170 Falcon Dr. in Coquitlam