Central Northside community helps fire victims

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Nisha Thompson and her three children had what she describes as an “amazing” Christmas this year, a surprising outcome considering that just nine days before the holiday, her family’s home in the Central Northside was up in flames.

“When I first saw the fire I was scared, devastated. You never think these things will happen to you,” said Thompson recounting the December 16 fire that destroyed her home and the home next door on Montery Street that belonged to the Diggs family.

Four of the five members of the Thompson family were home at the time of the fire, with Thompson’s oldest daughter Taiyona making sure that her brother and sister got out of the house safely.

The Diggs also made it out of the fire safely and relocated.

“They’re going day by day now,” says Mr. Diggs Jr., the Diggs’ son.   The house belonged to his parents who have since relocated to a hotel.  

Though all of the family members made it out of the fire unharmed, the two families were left homeless for what was looking to be a bleak holiday season.

Despite the tragedy, the two Northside families saw an outpouring of support from their friends, neighbors and members of the Central Northside community through the holiday season that included countless donations, support and culminated with a benefit concert on January 15 with nearly 100 people in attendance.

 “They raised money at a coffee shop for several weeks. They gave me dishes, clothes, toys, soap, rags, towels, sheets, blankets, and I don’t mean just one day I mean every week I was packing two car full s of gifts and other necessities that they had for me,” said Thomas about her neighbors. “More stuff than you could imagine.”.

Despite the fire occurring immediately before the Christmas holiday, Nisha says that thanks to her neighbors, her children still had an amazing Christmas. 

The benefit concert was held by the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church to help raise money for the families.  All the proceeds were given directly to them.  

“By the end of the night we were just shy of 100 people,” says Reverend D.V. McFarland, of AUUC.  

“I never imagined that many people would be there.  It was very nice and I appreciated every second of it,” said Nisha who attended the concert on January 15.

The idea for the concert was based on past participation of the community amidst the hardship of one of its own.

“We hosted one here for Kerry Kennedy when his flower shop burned [on] New Years Eve 2010, so it came to mind right away,” says McFarland.  “I talked with Kerry and other neighbors, and it all came together.”

The concert featured the Ortner-Roberts Duo, City Asylum writers Khet Mar and Israel Centeno, and the church’s musician, amongst others .

Nisha and her family recently moved out of state into a three bedroom home after long time plans to move out of Pittsburgh.  

“I figured now would be the best time, if any,” she said.

The Diggs family plans on relocating back to the neighborhood.  “They love the Northside,” says Diggs Jr.  “[They’re] still staying strong.  They got a lot to go through right now, it just takes time.” 

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