Fam­ily over­whelmed by gen­eros­ity af­ter fire

Own­ers of Pi­o­neer Flower Farms now need equip­ment for cleanup af­ter green­house burns

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Front Page - AL­LAN BEN­NER

Mieke Sikking’s eyes welled with tears as the doors of the white van opened in front of her, giv­ing her a clear view of the hun­dreds of do­nated items packed within.

“We’re over­whelmed with the sup­port that we’re get­ting,” Sikking said.

But in ad­di­tion to the touch­ing gen­eros­ity of the com­mu­nity, she said her tears were also the re­sult of the emo­tional roller coaster she and her fam­ily have been on since Fri­day night.

“It feels like we’re in a night­mare — a night­mare that doesn’t stop,” Sikking said.

Her fam­ily’s busi­ness Pi­o­neer Flower Farms was dev­as­tated by a fire that tore through most of the 650,000-square-foot green­house com­plex Fri­day night, de­stroy­ing all but roughly 30 per cent of the fa­cil­ity at 1900 Sev­enth St.

And the cause of the blaze — that was still smoul­der­ing on Mon­day af­ter­noon — will likely never be known, said St. Catharines deputy fire Chief Frank Bian­cucci.

Bian­cucci said the On­tario Fire Mar­shal in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined that “they would never be able to de­ter­mine the cause and ori­gin” of the fire due to the ex­tent of the the dam­age.

He said the roof of a building where the fire may have started col­lapsed within min­utes of the fire­fight­ers ar­rival, trap­ping the flames be­neath it and de­stroy­ing any clues that might have al­lowed in­ves­ti­ga­tors to de­ter­mine its ori­gin.

“We’re go­ing to clas­sify this fire as un­de­ter­mined,” Bian­cucci said.

He de­scribed it as “one of the largest fires the city has had” in terms of the emergency re­sponse through mu­tual aid agree­ments with neigh­bour­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. He said five fire de­part­ments re­sponded with 27 pieces of ap­pa­ra­tus and as many as 100 fire­fight­ers on site at its peak.

But de­spite the ex­tent of the peat moss-fu­eled blaze, no in­juries were re­ported.

The blaze, how­ever, also destroyed the res­i­dences of ap­prox­i­mately 50 migrant work­ers, along with al­most every­thing they had.

And that dev­as­tat­ing loss mo­ti­vated the com­mu­nity into ac­tion.

Hern­der Es­tate Wines man­ager An­gel Fusarelli posted a call for do­na­tions on her Face­book ac­count, hop­ing some of her friends might pitch in a few items to help out. But she said she didn’t ex­pect the re­sponse she re­ceived when that post was shared pub­licly.

“The com­mu­nity has been remarkable,” she said.

“I don’t think I re­al­ized the mag­ni­tude of so­cial me­dia and the out­pour­ing of gen­eros­ity,” Fusarelli said, ad­ding items such as cloth­ing, shoes, boots, toi­letries, bed­ding, and fur­ni­ture have been do­nated.

She said the com­mu­nity’s gen­eros­ity brought tears to the eyes of the migrant work­ers, too.

For in­stance, Fusarelli said she learned Sun­day that they needed bi­cy­cles. And within 20 min­utes of up­dat­ing her post, a trailer ar­rived packed full of bi­cy­cles.

“As soon as they saw they were bikes, that’s when the tears started. The smiles and the tears were just un­be­liev­able,” she said, ad­ding the work­ers rely on the bikes for per­sonal transporta­tion. “They were wor­ried about the clothes on the back and where they were living but it was the bikes that re­ally hit home.”

In ad­di­tion, Fusarelli said thou­sands of dol­lars are be­ing do­nated to help the work­ers.

“Just at the win­ery here, I bet we re­ceived over $10,000 in gift cards and money,” she said. “It’s just over­whelm­ing, the sup­port.”

Mean­while, com­mu­nity do­na­tions were also col­lected by the

Johnson fam­ily at the plaza at 318 On­tario St., and a fam­ily friend Carli Tay­lor ral­lied for pri­vate do­na­tions, while a go­fundme.com cam­paign called Pi­o­neer Flower Farm Work­ers has raised $6,150 of its $10,000 goal as of Mon­day af­ter­noon.

PenFi­nan­cial Credit Union also an­nounced Mon­day that an emergency ac­count had been set up and will be ac­cept­ing do­na­tions at all eight branches.

In a me­dia re­lease, PenFi­nan­cial CEO Ken Janzen said the credit union is “sad­dened by this tragedy and want to do what we can to fa­cil­i­tate do­na­tions to help our friends and neigh­bours dur­ing this ex­tremely dif­fi­cult time.”

Fusarelli said the con­gre­ga­tions of lo­cal churches also pitched in, in­clud­ing one that pitched in $1,000 in gift cards.

And by Mon­day morn­ing, when Hern­der Es­tate Wines owner Fred Hern­der ar­rived in that white van with a fourth de­liv­ery of items col­lected at his win­ery, the do­na­tions were al­ready over­whelm­ing — fill­ing sev­eral ta­bles set up in the drive­way of a home on Third Av­enue Louth.

“They’re our neigh­bours,” Hern­der said. “If the shoe was on the other foot, they’d be doing it for us.”

But now — as grate­ful as the fam­ily and work­ers are for the gen­eros­ity they have seen from the com­mu­nity in the days since the fire — Sikking said they need time to sort through the do­na­tions they have al­ready re­ceived be­fore ac­cept­ing any more.

“What­ever we don’t need is go­ing to be given back to the com­mu­nity,” Sikking said.

She said any items that can­not be used by the work­ers will in­stead be do­nated to Com­mu­nity Care.

The fam­ily could, how­ever, use sup­plies to help with the cleanup.

In a state­ment is­sued Mon­day, Kristen Sikking said the fam­ily has “min­i­mal tools and safety gear for cleanup and repair of ex­ist­ing struc­tures.”

Garbage bins, hel­mets, masks, tools, six- to eight-foot-tall lad­ders, shov­els, brooms, bolt cut­ters, weld­ing ma­chin­ery, ham­mers, drills, screw­drivers, etc., “would be most gra­ciously needed,” she wrote in the state­ment.

She asked peo­ple will­ing to lend them the items to drop them off at 1629 Third Ave.

The state­ment also says it is “crucial to the fu­ture” of the busi­ness to mod­ify the struc­tures that were not dam­aged in the fire, to al­low for the con­tin­ued employment of work­ers as they har­vest cur­rent out­door crops and fill cus­tomer or­ders.

“Once we get ap­proval from the fire mar­shal, we will be go­ing full force to al­low op­er­a­tions to con­tinue,” she wrote.


Some of the ex­ten­sive dam­age to the Pi­o­neer Flow­ers af­ter the fire this past weekend. The cause may never be known, says deputy fire chief.


Some of the ex­ten­sive dam­age to the Pi­o­neer Flow­ers af­ter the fire this past weekend.

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