Fire destroys shelter

Bea Gaddy Family Center will still hold Thanksgiving dinner

November 20, 2008|By Liz F. Kay and Julie Bykowicz | Liz F. Kay and Julie Bykowicz and,liz.kay@baltsun.com and julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

An electrical fire destroyed the women's shelter at the Bea Gaddy Family Center late Tuesday, a setback for a charity that is scrambling to fulfill its tradition of feeding Thanksgiving dinner to thousands of needy people.

Though fire damaged the homeless shelter at 424 Duncan St., the adjacent family center at 425 N. Chester St. will continue to collect turkeys and canned good donations.

"The shelter is gone as we know it," said executive director Cynthia Brooks, who grew emotional yesterday as she described the damage and the increased need. Brooks is the daughter of Gaddy, who was perhaps Baltimore's best-known advocate of the poor.

Chief Kevin Cartwright, spokesman for the city Fire Department, said the fire occurred about 11:30 p.m. No one was injured.

Security guards smelled smoke and saw smoke coming from the roof, Brooks said. When firefighters arrived, the roof was ablaze.

The eight women and six children staying in the shelter were displaced, but a TV cameraman put them up in a hotel, Brooks said.

Builders have started to repair the shelter, but John Fowler, Gaddy's son, said it will be a few days before the residents can move back in.

The nonprofit group will continue to collect and distribute donated food and meals, Brooks said.

Because only the shelter, not the center, was affected, "we've got refrigerated storage, and we've got containers for the food," she said. "We just need electricity. We just need help."

Electrical contractors and other workers started to help yesterday, she said.

Crews from DNR Contractors, Quality Improvements and others worked until 6:30 p.m., Fowler said. Workers were able to tear out drywall and reach damaged wood.

Home Depot donated a $5,000 store credit to help with the rebuilding, and Sky Line Properties served as one of the lead organizers, he said.

This year, officials with the organization anticipate a need for as many as 55,000 meals - up considerably from the 40,000 served last year.

"There is such a need this year," said Connie Bass, director of the center's daily operations. "People are hurting. We're seeing double the numbers we saw last year dropping into the center on a daily basis."

Bass said as many as 150 people stop by the center each day looking for food, shelter and clothing.

The Chester Street center is open 24 hours a day through Thanksgiving to accept donations of nonperishable food, winter clothing and money. Thanksgiving dinner will be held at Patterson Park Recreational Center, and Bea Gaddy volunteers also will deliver meals to senior citizens and others who are unable to leave their homes.

Baltimore Sun reporter Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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