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Syrian Refugees Lose Everything in Rogers Park Fire, Locals Step Up To Help

By  Linze Rice and Josh McGhee | January 14, 2016 5:44am | Updated on January 14, 2016 8:18am

 The Elaly family escaped with only their lives from a fire that tore through a Rogers Park apartment building Monday. Here, the family is advocating for Syrian refugees at the White House.
The Elaly family escaped with only their lives from a fire that tore through a Rogers Park apartment building Monday. Here, the family is advocating for Syrian refugees at the White House.
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Syrian Community Network

ROGERS PARK — Members of the Elaly family escaped war-torn Syria and traveled thousands of miles to move to Rogers Park — but were forced to restart their lives again this week after a fire tore through their apartment.

On Monday, the family lost their home in the apartment fire in the 1700 block of West Estes Avenue in Rogers Park.

But by Wednesday evening, more than $3,800 had been raised for the Elalys by more than 50 people through a GoFundMe campaign started by Syrian Community Network's President Suzanne Akhras. The donation amount far exceeded the $3,000 goal within hours of it being posted. By Thursday morning, about $6,300 had been raised.

The blaze consumed the family's living space along with their personal belongings. Of the 16 apartments affected by the fire, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said about seven units total were left uninhabitable.

Akhras said due to the size of the family's temporary housing, the Syrian network is helping to provide only the family's most basic, immediate needs. They are also collecting cash and gift card donations that will go toward the family's new home and to once more rebuild their lives, hence the crowdfunding effort.

It's the fourth time in four years the family has been uprooted.

In 2012, the Elaly family fled a war-torn Syria after their father of six was killed on his way home from work, according to Akhras' post.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Elaly family had been confronted with violence that eventually caused them to flee from the city of Homs to Damascus. 

There, they would find political unrest.

Soon the house in which they sought refuge was under attack, and some shrapnel from those attacks are still embedded in the bodies of two of the Elaly girls, Akhras wrote.

They left Damascus and headed for Lebanon, where they registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Once they'd completed the vetting process necessary to come to the U.S., the Elaly family finally made it to Chicago in January 2015.

But now, just one year later, they found themselves without a stable home again.

"So, on the anniversary of their arrival in the U.S., the family once again finds themselves starting over," Akhras said.

A picture from inside the Elaly family's apartment building, but of another unit shared by a couple and their two cats, who are now missing, now completely charred and uninhabitable. [GoFundMe/Andrew and Nick]

The GoFundMe page wasn't the only call to action Syrian Community Network put out.

After posting about the Elaly family on their Facebook page, dozens of people reached out offering everything from furniture, to small household items, to mattresses, clothes, winter gear and more.

Items set up through an Amazon.com wish list started being purchased, including items like toothbrushes, shoes and hand towels.

“They left everything during the fire," said Kim Snoddy, Asst. Director of Development for RefugeeOne. "Some of these families had very young children, at least two toddlers.”

Other families whose homes were left uninhabitable also included two families from Myanmar, one of seven and one of four, as well as another couple whose two cats have been missing since the fire.

The pair's friend is also raising money for them, garnering nearly $8,000 of the $15,000 goal by Wednesday night.

Pictures of their apartment show a completely charred unit, filled with ash, debris and icicles — remnants of a place they called home just a week ago.

"So, as you bundle yourselves and your families against the frigid temperatures, keep these families in your hearts, so that perhaps they may inspire a bit of generosity," Akhras said.

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