Kathy Pinto walked into the 29th Street Community Center in Charles Village last week with warm children's clothing to donate, including a snow suit.
"I heard about the fire," said Pinto, a social worker who lives in Guilford. "I heard there were children involved. It's the right thing to do."
The community center is leading a concerted effort to help a family of four get back on their feet after they were displaced in a one-alarm blaze Feb. 7 at an apartment building at 2740 St. Paul St. that caused $100,000 in estimated damage to an apartment building at 2740 St. Paul St., according to a Baltimore City Fire Department report.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, said Capt. Roman Clark, a fire deartment spokesman.
The family — Krystle Livering, 33, her partner, Menhefen "Fonz" Rasberry, 31, and their children, Kari, 2, and Enzo, 1 — are living with Rasberry's parents in northeast Washington. Livering, a night dispatcher for an alarm company, and Rasberry, co-founder of a commercial lighting company, are commuting to work, while house-hunting in Charles Village in their spare time.
Their cats, Cash and Tango (named for the movie) perished in the early morning fire.
For the first time since the fire, the family returned to the three-story building, a row house with multiple units, for a photo shoot Monday. They couldn't get into their old apartment because the city condemned the building Feb. 9, so they stood in the back yard, staring at the charred remains and the children's melted toys strewn in the snow, including a Dora the Explorer oven and a new tricycle that Kari never got to ride.
"Where are the cats?" Kari asked, not for the first time.
"There was a fire in the kitchen," Livering said patiently as she held her daughter in her arms. "Everything is gone."
No tenants were killed in the fire, although the family suffered smoke inhalation and another tenant, Lindsay Raspi, 33, said she barely escaped and was briefly hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with burns on her face and hands. She still has trouble speaking due to smoke inhalation and was interviewed by email for this story. She also referred a reporter to her remarks about the fire on her Tumblr site.
Raspi said her cats, Audrey and Bibi, also died in the fire.
"I miss my cats," she states on Tumblr. "I feel horribly guilty that I couldn't save them."
Raspi, a teacher in the city school system, said she is now staying with her father in Abingdon and has not been able to return to work. She said she has made arrangements to sublet a room in Waverly starting in mid-March.
She sent photos of herself from before and after the fire, but declined to join her neighbors for the photo shoot, saying she was "not emotionally prepared to go anywhere near that house."
Coming back to the building was also painful for Rasberry, who runs a commercial lighting company with his friend, Marcus Bradford. Rasberry said he found out about the fire while snowboarding in Vermont, where he ignored a seemingly oddball text message saying, "Fire house gone," followed by one by Bradford, asking, "Is your family alright?"
That's when he called Bradford and learned, "My house was gone, pretty much."
If there is a silver lining for Raspi and the Livering-Rasberry family, it is an outpouring of support and donations from friends, family members and well-wishers.
"I have gotten an incredible amount of support from my boyfriend, family, friends and strangers," said Raspi, a poet and co-organizer of the Shade Series group readings in Baltimore. "We started a gofundme (online fundraising page) that exceeded our expectations by far and will hopefully cover my medical bills and help with future living arrangements."
For the family, the support has come in large part from the 29th Street Community Center and its members, because Livering and her children were active at the center and participated in several play groups that the center offers, including Sing Along and Mother Goose on the Loose.
The family also has a gofundme page that had raised $3,085 as of Monday afternoon, Livering said. She said her sister, Lauren LeBrun, of Middle River, started the page for her.
Odette Ramos, who lives nearby and coordinates the play programs at the center, said she saw the fire from her house and walked by the site afterward.
"I knew immediately it was Krystle," Ramos said. "I emailed her right away. She sent me the link to the gofundme page."
Ramos said she "sent out a few emails" to alert community members about the family's plight and the fundraising page — "and all of a sudden, all these [monetary] donations came in."
Ramos said she also linked to Raspi's separate gofundme page, although she doesn't know Raspi.
"We're very fortunate to live in a neighborhood where people look out for one another," said Ramos, executive director of the organization Community Development of Maryland and a former candidate for the Baltimore City Council.
Hannah Gardi, director of the 29th Street Community Center, showed a closet full of donated items for the Livering-Rasberry family on Friday, ranging from beanbag chairs to jumbo-sized bags of diapers, as well as a dining set and other furniture stored in a utility room. There was so much stuff that Gardi and her staff decided to move it into the larger, weight room.
Gardi, too, knew Livering from the play groups and said Livering and her children had been coming since the center opened last year. Gardi said the outpouring of support shows "how beautiful our community can be."
For Ramos, it was personal as well.
"You know, it could have been any one of us," she said.
"I am incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support and generosity being shown," Raspi states on her Tumblr site. "I have never felt so cared for and I sincerely appreciate it."
"Everyone has just been so supportive," Livering said.
She and Rasberry are muddling through.
"My childhood photos are gone," Livering said. "But you've got to keep a positive outlook. My kids are alive."