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July 15, 2013

Berkley shop helps families recover from home fires

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Berkley shop helps families recover from home fires
Jakita White, 30, of Detroit, started Fire Victims United, a nonprofit organization aiming to help fire victims, with her father, Antonio Hayden, last September. The two also started Estate Sale Resale in Berkley to help raise money to help the fire victims replace their furniture and appliances.

BERKLEY — In 2002, Jakita White saw her apartment go up in flames while she and friends jumped from the third floor to avoid being caught in the fire. Out on her own for the first time with her 1-year-old son, White had nothing after the fire.

White said she remembers what it felt like to be burned out after a fire, with nothing left to your name and no one to help you get back on your feet. Her dad, Antonio Hayden, also remembers what his daughter had to go through, and he wanted to make sure others didn’t suffer a similar fate.

White and Hayden started Fire Victims United last September, a nonprofit organization that helps furnish new homes for individuals or families who suffered a fire in their previous home or apartment.

Estate Sale Resale, located at 4111 W. 12 Mile Road, in Berkley, is where White and Hayden bring in money to help the families in need. Donated furniture, clothes, tools and more from estate sales around the Detroit area is sold, with all proceeds going to help fire victims.

“Lately, there seems to be a fire every day and it is getting out of control,” White, 30, said. “A lot of people don’t have insurance and we have known people, personally, who have been burned out, but they are not poor and they are working. They have lost their home, which is something they worked hard for.”

White and her dad started working on getting 501(c)(3) status last May and finally were set in September. White is from Detroit and Hayden lives in Southfield, but they found the best deal on a place for rent in Berkley.

When fire victims contact White, after she verifies the fire, she helps furnish kids’ rooms, the living room and provide appliances for the new home.

Business has been slow in the first months of business, but White said the best way for people to find out what they are doing has been word of mouth.

“I’d say about 90 percent of the way people find out is by coming into the shop, and I tell them thanks for supporting fire victims after a purchase and that gives me a chance to let them know all about the organization,” White said. “I am in the process of looking for grants to help pay rent, pay people to help gather stuff and take it to new homes and just get the word out about what we are doing to help.”

The first year has not gone as White and Hayden thought. The two quit their jobs last September to start the organization, but had to quickly find new ones when they realized it wouldn’t take off so quickly.

White has three kids and works at the resale shop most days of the week, but she also holds down two night jobs to pay rent at home and for the shop.

“I have three kids, am a single lady and work two night jobs, so I try to sleep when I can, but I drink a lot of coffee,” White said. “We were all in when it started and ready to do this, but we realized businesses don’t just take off like that. But, it is worth it. Just knowing when people sit back at night and look at what they have, I know I have helped.”

The reward has been helping people like a Southfield resident last week. Laura Clifton, a Realtor in Southfield, had one of her properties catch fire and it put a mother and her daughter out of a home with nothing surviving the fire.

White said Clifton brought the mother and daughter in, and when she saw the little girl wearing mismatched clothes and different shoes, she knew all the hard work she has had to go through has been worth it.

For Clifton, seeing people like White and Hayden trying to make a difference is a welcome change in the area.

“What they are doing is really done in a kind manner, and the attitude they have is that they want to help, but don’t want anything in return and don’t ask for money,” Clifton said. “I became close with my tenant, but I couldn’t find any other organization that did what Ms. White does. Now, this woman is getting things back together because of what Ms. White gave her, and we couldn’t be more thankful.”

Eventually, White said she wants to start an apartment complex where she can house fire victims with already-furnished apartments for similar rent to what they were paying. One of the first orders of business would be to make sure everyone knew all the fire hazards, White joked.

“I want to focus on the individual families, I want to meet everyone personally and I want to show up when they have fires so they know they have help,” she said. “Most of the time, I can’t help people right away because they are still looking for a place. But when they have a place, they know they can call me and I will help them out for any necessities they need.”

For more information on Fire Victims United, visit www.firevictimsunited.org or call (313) 629-3920.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.