were the words Olga Sanchez, a Millbrae fire victim used to describe the emotions that were running through her as she witnessed her apartment building being ravaged by the flames.
In a 30-Day fundraising marathon, the Support Life Foundation turned a tragedy into an opportunity to bring two major San Francisco Bay area cities together, uniting the entire peninsula community under one cause: to keep 11 families from homelessness during a pandemic. With immediate action on the ground from night one, we helped the families not only fight the trauma and shock through unbiased love and support, but also to navigate the red tape and limited emergency aid they received from national organizations. We took their statements, assessed their needs, and decided that the world needs to hear their story. Using our platform, we tirelessly appealed to our network. Each day, the victims’ situation was changing, and they were running out of time. Our goal was to raise $55,000 for them, giving each family $5k to secure housing and get back on their feet. Instead, we received such an outpouring of love from everyone - the cities, the communities, politicians and civil servants, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, other non-profits large and small. Our appeal struck a chord on everyone’s heartstrings. Not only did the families receive thousands of dollars worth of donations in the form of food, clothing, furniture, toiletries, and toys; we achieved 140% of our goal!
Support Life Foundation initially came in contact with a few families in the apartment building as a result of the “You Are Not Alone” campaign prior to the fire of April 27th 2020 at Hemlock Avenue. Many of the families had already been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdowns, their financial resources already depleted. They were receiving our food packages to help them stretch things out. In fact, Support Life Foundation had delivered multiple large boxes (each 75LBS of food) 24 hours prior to the fire.
Shortly after it occurred, we received a phone call that the families we had just helped 24 hours prior were now homeless. “This was very disheartening to hear, knowing that yesterday the families were so joyous to receive the food packages, and today they lost everything they owned”, said Luqman Elbakri, the volunteer coordinator that delivered the care packages the day before. After following up with the families we soon learned that the Red-Cross provided them with emergency housing - 10 days at a nearby hotel. The question everyone was asking was...
Support Life Foundation, having worked with homelessness, knew first hand what laid ahead and how dire the situation was. If no one intervened, these families were about to become additional statistics. Due to months of forced unemployment, there were just no financial reserves! Thus, and with no hesitation, the Millbrae Fire Victims crowdfunding campaign was born and a fundraising goal of $55,000 (divided evenly amongst the 11 families) was set. Our principles as a foundation did not permit us to overlook any of the families in the apartment building, “Either we take care of everyone or we don’t do it at all” said Salah Elbakri, the executive director of Support Life Foundation.
As the campaign launched, Support Life Foundation mobilized every sector of the civic society in two neighboring cities, namely Millbrae and Burlingame. Appeals to local churches and houses of worship were made through an intimate request from Burlingame Mayor Emily Beach. Nonprofits such as Mothers Against Poverty provided Target gift cards. The Yaseen Foundation’s network of volunteers provided nightly home cooked meals for the families. Furthermore, local civic clubs and retailers and restaurants, such as the Lions Club, Nuts For Candy, and Sabre Pizza all hopped on the action. Local schools and their boards became directly involved in the fundraising efforts. The two cities’ mayors and council members directly solicited the help of the philanthropic world and city residents.
Thanks to the extreme generosity of the El Rancho Hotel for providing the fire victims with shelter beyond the 10 days of initial emergency housing, the campaign had enough time to take effect. During which, Mayor Reuben Holober of Millbrae and Mayor Emily Beach of Burlingame activated the cities by heavily promoting the crowdfunding campaign on social media; while council member Donna Colson, and former Mayor Micheal Brownrigg who personally fundraised and tapped the philanthropic world. Without their help, the Support Life Foundation would not have been able to mobilize two entire cities and all their mediums. Ultimately resulting in an astounding sum of money raised, surpassing our everyone’s expectations with $77K. This allowed us to distribute $7,000 to each family affected by the fire and help each of them secure long-term housing to restart their lives. Immediately after the campaign concluded, Mayor Holober and the city council of Millbrae held a commendation ceremony for the Support Life Foundation.
This campaign is one of the most successful and immediately impactful fundraisers that the Support Life Foundation has ever undertaken. The situation seemed incredibly dire in the beginning. How would we be able to help these families? During an already stressful economic time when many Americans are suffering and feeling hopeless with a palpable loss of trust in governing institutions, this campaign proves that we are united and there is still love, hope, and most of all, compassion in our communities. We are incredibly grateful and proud to have this opportunity to serve and continue our mission as the Support Life Foundation!