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In the wake of a home explosion, a community comes together to donate

“South Philly is a really wonderful place and it’s really a family,” said Nancy Trachtenberg, who owns Benna’s Cafe, located just a block from the explosion. “I’m not surprised that this many people came together to make a difference.”

Nancy Trachtenberg isn’t surprised at the number of people who’ve come together to support the victims of the South 8th Street rowhouse explosion in South Philly, which occurred on the Thursday before Christmas. 

“South Philly is a really wonderful place and it’s really a family,” said Trachtenberg, who owns Benna’s Cafe, located just a block from the explosion. “I’m not surprised that this many people came together to make a difference.”

Trachtenberg’s cafe, like many businesses in the area, has a donation bin placed inside its shop so people can donate clothing and toiletries. Initially, Benna’s was also accepting monetary donations to keep a running tab so those affected by the fires could eat a free breakfast. However, after realizing that not many people were requesting the free breakfasts, Trachtenberg converted the roughly $1,200 worth of donations into Visa gift cards. She said close to $4,000 total has been raised by area businesses alone – not counting clothing, toiletries and whatnot.

Mike’s BBQ, located nearby on the 1700 block of S. 11th Street, also got in on the action. In two days, customers of the location donated $1,000 worth of gift cards, which were taped to the wall of Mike’s next to a sign that reads “8th street fire victims grab a card on us!”

“We stopped accepting donations after two days, and referred people to the Passyunk Square civic group,” said the business’s owner, Michael Strauss, in an email. “Any extra funds, we will send that way as well.”

Strauss said he wanted to help because the people affected are his business’s neighbors, friends and guests.

“It was amazing how fast the community came together,” he said. “I’m also not surprised at the outpouring of help. It’s why I love Philly!”

Function Coffee Labs, run by the husband/wife duo of Ross Nickerson and Megan McCusker, have been taking in clothing and toiletry donations as well.

“It’s really been wonderful to see the community come together to support those in need,” said Nickerson in an email. “There was certainly plenty of chatter about it in the shop – lots of people brought up the lists of places where donations could be made.”

In a statement from its executive director Adam Leiter, The East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District said that many of the corridor’s local businesses had reached out to the organization to look for ways to help.

“Our organization has been working directly with the civic association as well as local and state representatives to coordinate food and clothing donations, pet supplies, and even offers for housing,” wrote Leiter in an email to SPR. “It’s been inspiring to see the overwhelming amount of support and the desire to help our neighbors in so many ways. I think that this swell of compassionate outreach is heightened, especially around the holidays, but I’m certain that this is the reaction that would happen regardless of the time of year. Wanting to jump in and help one another is what makes South Philly such a special and connected community, and as we continue to learn more about specific needs I’m sure you will continue to see businesses on East Passyunk coming forward to help.”

In addition to help from the local business community, everyday residents have come together to support those affected by the explosion. Four separate fundraisers have been launched by area residents – one aimed at supporting the family of Rudy Komburg, who lost his life in the fire; another supporting the family of an Academy at Palumbo student who had a family member killed in the fire; and two others benefitting various residents affected by the explosion, including a family with a young son. At the current time of writing, all four fundraisers have raised almost $86,000.

“So many of us across South Philly were absolutely heartbroken for the families and the residents,” said state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, who has a donation bin in her office at 9th and Ritner. “Almost immediately after people reached out to my office to ask what they could do to help. I really think that the gravity of what happened is incredibly sad it has been really remarkable to see the response from so many people who have given to my office.”

Fiedler said that people have donated clothing, blankets, diapers, canned soups and non-perishable foods.

“People have been incredibly compassionate and generous during this difficult time,” she said.

Sarah Anton, president of the Passyunk Square Civic Association, said that neighbors were “horrified” and “traumatized” when they first learned of the news.

“I think people just didn’t know what was happening and shocked at how bad it was,” she said. “People opened their doors, ran in their houses and went to help. They came together in an extraordinary way.”

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