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‘This is the Baltimore people need to see’: Donations pour into Northwest Baltimore neighborhood following fatal explosion

Ruwaydah Amin, a teacher, came to the Red Cross donation center to donate items on Monday after hearing about the gas explosion, and felt compelled to volunteer last night and today as a way to assist the community affected by the explosion.
Ruwaydah Amin, a teacher, came to the Red Cross donation center to donate items on Monday after hearing about the gas explosion, and felt compelled to volunteer last night and today as a way to assist the community affected by the explosion. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

A day after a deadly explosion leveled three homes in Northwest Baltimore, people from far-away counties and neighboring states arrived at the blast site Tuesday en masse with a bounty of water, food, clothes and toiletries for victims.

The cascade of donations so overwhelmed disaster response organizations on-site that some asked the Good Samaritans to hold off making in-kind donations. The gestures echoed similar tales of heroism and community spirit following the disaster.

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Some volunteers remarked they had not seen the same level of community unity since Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is the Baltimore people need to see,” said Ruwaydah Amin, a Baltimore resident who was helping to sort the donations Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of an Applebee’s restaurant.

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The explosion, which killed two people and injured at least seven others, occurred just before 10 a.m. Monday in the 4200 block of Labyrinth Road, behind Reisterstown Road Plaza shopping center near the city-county line. Authorities have said an investigation into the exact cause of the blast could take months.

The disaster affected 200 people, with about 30 residents requiring temporary shelter Monday, according to a fire department spokeswoman.

As word spread of the impact to the community, a steady stream of do-gooders from around the region arrived Tuesday to a makeshift staging area.

People reportedly traveled from Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties as well as Virginia to drop off items including toothpaste, sippy cups, laundry detergent, face masks, menstrual products and more for the victims. Cases of bottled water — among the most popular items donated — were stacked into a 4-foot pile nearby.

“I’m literally tripping all over stuff, and I love it,” Amin said.

Amin, a private school elementary teacher, said she first rushed to the scene with her son Monday evening to drop off water for the volunteers and victims. Before she knew it, she was calling her boss to ask off work Tuesday to spend more time distributing resources.

“It’s just a beautiful sight,” Amin said of the parade of cars unloading goods. “I’ve cried three to four times already. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Ariel Hernandez, 12, and his mother, Dora Hernandez, received free food from World Central Kitchen, delivered by a Red Cross van circulating in the Reisterstown Station neighborhood, near the site of Monday’s gas explosion.

Ariel, whose family lives on Crest Heights Road, said, “the whole house shook” when the explosion happened.

By 2 p.m., volunteers were turning away certain donations such as clothing, citing an excess in good will.

Rashida Sims approached the donation staging area Tuesday afternoon and asked where she could unload some clothing for women and children.

The Harford County resident said she still attends church around the corner from the explosion site and wanted to offer fresh garments and cloth face masks from her online shop, Shee Boutique.

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“My heart is still in the city,” she said. “It’s so sad. It’s unbelievable for someone to have to start completely over.”

The gas explosion that killed two people in Northwest Baltimore was caught on a RING.com camera footage on Labyrinth Road. (Video courtesy of Dominique Bass)

Several charitable organizations and city agencies were also among the fray of volunteers in the Applebee’s lot. The Red Cross helped serve about 400 lunches and 500 dinners Monday, said Misty Bruce, the executive director of the Central Maryland branch.

Charm City circulator buses, parked behind the Applebee’s, became an air-conditioned haven for victims, and a quiet place for city officials to conduct interviews and provide mental health services.

Representatives from CASA de Maryland helped translate for Spanish-speaking neighbors, some of whom needed help navigating city resources or just wanted to know how they could help. In some cases, neighbors needed assistance in reaching their landlords, who had not reached out since the explosion had damaged the homes, CASA volunteers said.

CASA’s executive director, Gustavo Torres, said the response to the disaster demonstrates how people from different backgrounds unite in times of hardship.

“It’s important to work as one community, not just as the Hispanic or Black community,” Torres said.

The Red Cross asked those wishing to donate Tuesday to hold off making in-kind donations given the surplus. The COVID-19 outbreak has also made managing donations even more difficult, Bruce added.

“When you have a ton of people coming to a site like that, it’s really challenging to manage crowd control,” she said.

Instead, individuals should donate to the Red Cross Central Maryland Chapter online, Bruce said. Those donations will help provide immediate financial assistance to disaster survivors, she said.

But in the coming weeks, as the displaced victims find new permanent homes, they’ll need more support from the community.

“When I say we don’t need anything right now, that means we have our clients in a nice holding spot,” she said. “There’s only so much you can pack into a hotel room.”

In the future, the Red Cross may put out calls for particular items their clients need, Bruce said.

“They’re going to need spoons; they’re gonna need a coffee pot,” she said. “Every single thing is gone.”

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