State Sen. Mike Hastings, seen here with executive director Kathryn Straniero, was able to secure $250,000 to help Together We Cope reopen after a fire. (Supplied photo)

State Sen. Mike Hastings, seen here with executive director Kathryn Straniero, was able to secure $250,000 to help Together We Cope reopen after a fire. (Supplied photo)

Sen. Hastings secures $250,000 state grant for Together We Cope after fire

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By Steve Metsch

After a fire just before Thanksgiving shut down Together We Cope – a longtime southwest suburban charitable organization – state Sen. Mike Hastings (D-19th) knew he had to help.

Hastings said he was moved to help because of the important role the organization plays by helping needy families in the region.

Hastings was able to secure a $250,000 grant from the state’s Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan fund that will help the organization recover.

“I’ve been to Together We Cope, right when I got into office. They serve displaced families, the homeless, women or men that are victims of domestic violence. Some people who are mentally ill, disabled,” Hastings said.

Kathryn Straniero, executive director of Together We Cope, based in Tinley Park, is “thrilled” Hastings stepped up to the plate.

The unexpected costs are mounting “even though we have great (insurance) coverage,” Staniero said.

Costs that are not covered by insurance are at about $100,000, Together We Cope communications director Marge Seltzner said.

“That’s not pretty. It’s an old building and when they start working on it, they’re going to start finding things,” Seltzner said Friday.

One of things is asbestos that must be abated from the flooring, she said.

Hastings said on Feb. 1 he had recently had contacted Straniero to ask about the recovery.

Initially, the damage not covered by insurance was around $50,000, he said. But that has doubled.

“I asked, ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ She said she didn’t know and got visibly emotional,” Hastings said. “Those are good people over there.”

Seltzner said some money had been raised through “fund raising, mostly online donations through our website.”

“People have been very generous to us, but $100,000 is a pretty big nut to crack,” she said.

Seltzner said the organization “is very grateful to the senator for coming through at this particular time because, boy, we sure needed it.”

Together We Cope serves 27 communities, including Alsip, Blue Island, Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge, Country Club Hills, Crestwood, Evergreen Park, Garden Homes, Harvey, Hazel Crest, Hickory Hills, Hometown, Homewood, Markham, Merrionette Park, Midlothian, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Orland Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Posen, Robbins, Tinley Park and Worth.

Without the state grant, Seltzner said, “We probably would have taken on some debt, stepped up our fundraising.”

While the actual fire damage was small, the smoke and water damage was extensive.

“That caused us to throw out everything we were selling in the resale shop. Clothing, housewares, furniture,” she said of store that nets about $30,000 in sales monthly.

“Then we had to throw out anything in the food pantry that were sprinkled on,” she said.

“I’ve learned that the water through the years just sits in the sprinkler system and collects bacteria. So, everything had to go,” Seltzner said.

Fire investigators determined a charger that was not plugged in had somehow sparked the fire, she said.

Work is underway on rehabbing the building, 17010 S. Oak Park Ave., but the earliest re-opening right now looks like April. It will be like a new building when completed.

As Hastings noted: “Now they’ll have the ability to modernize it. Kathy was telling me the Greater Food Depository of Chicago is supplying them with a freezer. And, with the new layout, instead of people going to get a bag of food, will be able to pick what they want.”

Together We Cope has a second building and is using it as an administrative center, Seltzner said: “We were able to bring a dozen staffers to that building. Kathy didn’t want people losing their jobs.”

For more information, visit www.togetherwecope.org

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