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Homeless but not helpless, Port Coquitlam fire victims start to rebuild their lives

Free clothing 'store,' with goods donated by the community, helps Port Coquitlam fire victims rebuild their lives.

It was a reunion of sorts for residents of a massive apartment fire who gathered to replace lost belongings at a free clothing exchange today (July 6).

Organized by the property managers of the complex at 2245 Wilson Ave., which burned in a June 25 fire, the free item pick-up filled up several tables and included clothing, children's toys and books.

"It's been amazing," said Colleen Semple of Profile Properties, who organized the event outside her office on Marpole Avenue with goods donated from the community.

Residents of the fire searched through the boxes of clothes and children's toys, hinting at the devastation wrought by the fire.

Shaun Driver was looking for baby clothes that would fit his five-month-old son while Bettina Leduc was greeting her neighbours and picking up needed items.

She was sporting a blue and white summer shift that she picked up at the free clothing exchange.

"This has been incredibly helpful," said Leduc, who fled the fire with nothing but her phone and laptop.

Fortunately, a firefighter was able to retrieve her purse a couple of days later.

Leduc has been living at a hotel since the fire, but will now go live with her son. She is planning to find house-sitting positions for the next while until the apartment is rebuilt or restored.

Tragic experience inspires generosity

Leduc told the Tri-City News that even though she is temporarily "homeless," she wants to use her energy to help others, especially firefighters or other emergency service workers.

"This has made me want to give back," said Leduc, a School District 43 worker.

She said people have been so kind to her since the fire; even the hotel workers "welcomed me with open arms" and she hopes to use this experience to make a difference.

Still, it could be awhile before families get their lives back together.

Driver, who is on the strata council, said it will be a few days before the insurance adjuster decides what to do with the building, and then it will take months for the work to be done.

Wilson Avenue is still blocked off to traffic in front of the building while several restoration trucks are parked because part of the structure will be demolished.

Some people were allowed to go in and retrieve items; Driver said he managed to find among the debris in his suite a valuable heirloom of English fish knives, dating back to the 19th century, which his wife's family bequeaths to the first married of each generation.

Unused clothing will be donated to charity

However, some people suffered loss both financially and personally, and some items that were either burned or damaged by smoke or water, including photos of loved ones, can't be replaced.

"There were tears. There were smiles," Driver said of the day people were allowed in to their suites to collect personal belongings.

Meanwhile, items not needed by the fire victims were put on sale on Wednesday, and remaining items will be donated to charity.

Semple said her company has held a few of these free clothing exchanges for the PoCo fire victims but her office is running out of space to hold the donated items.