The Hickory Hills Sertoma Club presented Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett and Ald. Mike Lebarre (3rd), a Hills Kiwanis member, with a $3,500 check to go toward assisting the Palos Hills residents displaced by the Christmas Day fire. Taking part in the presentation were (from left) Bennett, Sertoma Club members Jerry Lipinski and Matt Birk, and Lebarre.
By Joe Boyle
Donations and various forms of support continue for the displaced residents of a condominium fire that occurred on Christmas Day in Palos Hills.
Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said the blaze that resulted in 56 residents becoming suddenly homeless has brought out the best in the community. City officials and staff, concerned residents, businesses and local service organizations have responded to assist those people who were displaced by the fire with housing and every day needs, the mayor said.
Paul Mackin, chief of the North Palos Fire Protection District, said no one was seriously hurt in the two-alarm blaze at the Green Tree Condominiums at 9954 S. 84th Terrace that began at 2:50 a.m. Dec. 25. It took about an hour and 40 minutes to put out the fire, Mackin said.
“We are still looking into the origin and we are working on that with an insurance company,” Mackin said on Monday. “What I can tell you is that it started in a lower level utility room. It appears to be some sort of mechanical failure. But it was not caused by incendiary means. It was not intentionally set.”
The fire damaged about 10 units and building inspectors determined that the entire building was uninhabitable, Mackin added. All the units sustained smoke damage. While most of the building has structurally been saved, the mechanical infrastructure is destroyed, according to Palos Hills officials.
Throughout the past week, the city’s Resource and Recreation Department, in conjunction with the mayor’s office, has served as the liaison between the American Red Cross and many of those residents involved with the fire.
“The (Resource and Recreation) Department has also worked closely with the Kiwanis Club in providing gift cards to those needing assistance with everyday needs such as clothes, food and toiletries,” Bennett said. “The Department has also worked extensively with Beds Plus in LaGrange to help residents with housing, food and hotel stays.”
The city’s Building Department has communicated regularly with Green Oaks and Scenic Tree Apartments to help residents secure new housing. Both Green Oaks and Scenic Tree leadership have stepped up to make the application process run smoothly, Bennett said.
Paul Hardison, the city’s building commissioner, is working closely with the restoration company and association to begin rebuilding the condominiums destroyed by the fire. Bennett allocated city disaster money to help pay for four days worth of meals for those residents still residing in hotels.
“The Hills Kiwanis Club has been instrumental in securing donations for the displaced residents,” Bennett said. “The number of individuals donating either gift cards or money has been amazing.”
“It has been unbelievable,” said Palos Hills Ald. Mike Lebarre (3rd), who is a member of the Hills Kiwanis Club. “When you watch TV you think the world is a horrible place. But when I went out to help those residents, people started coming over from across the street to help. It was really nice.”
Lebarre had asked Bennett what should be done after the fire. The mayor asked Lebarre if he could help coordinate the relief effort for the residents. Lebarre said he was happy to do it but emphasized he had a lot of assistance. He said the efforts of Kristin Violante, the commissioner of the city’s Resource and Recreation Department, was instrumental in assisting the residents who were displaced.
“Kristin worked around the clock on this,” Lebarre said. “She got interpreters to help out with people who couldn’t speak English. She is just a shining star for the city.”
Lebarre also wanted to thank residents Michelle Havlick McDougall and Shari Schmidt who also assisted the residents who were now homeless because of the fire. Lebarre also said that Ald. Dawn Nowak (5th) worked tirelessly to help out after the fire.
“In the future, we plan to recognize those who made donations to the Kiwanis Club,” Bennett said.
The mayor also said he wants to thank those residents who helped those displaced by setting up donations at New Beginnings Church, 11111 S. Roberts Road, Palos Hills.
“The outpouring of support by those who donated has been heartwarming to see,” Bennett said. “Many of the residents have found either temporary or permanent housing. Some hope to return to their homes at Green Oaks Condominiums once they have been completely restored.
“We hope to see them back in Palos Hills permanently in the future,” Bennett added. “Again, thank you to everyone from the Palos Hills community who has stepped up to assist these residents. It has truly been remarkable to see this community in action.”