HAMILTON HEIGHTS — The Mendez family has a guardian angel.
An anonymous donor is paying for the funeral of Melisa Mendez, a 15-year-old who died during a Hamilton Heights apartment fire, her family said Thursday.
“Just like my daughter was an angel to the church, an angel came to us,” said the girl's father Antonio Mendez, who spoke to the mystery woman by phone. “She didn’t want to tell me her name. She said it was between us and God.”
On Thursday, the Mendez family joined their neighbors at the Church of the Annunciation to accept some of the clothes, bedding, kitchen appliances, toys and school supplies that have been donated. Antonio Mendez said the outpouring of support from the community has turned him into a believer.
Melisa and her mother Basilia Mendez used to go to the church on an almost daily basis, where Basilia volunteered as a Eucharistic minister and Melisa helped teach CCD classes, according to the pastor, the Rev. Baltazar Sanchez.
During the last two weeks people have donated close to a ton of goods for the families left homeless by the fire, City Councilman Mark Levine said.
“Twenty four families lost their homes," he said. "In many cases, lost every single possession they had in the world.”
The church has raised $12,000 and the community raised $4,000, including $500 from the firefighters that responded to the fire. Organizations like the West Harlem Group Assistance, the Salvation Army and the Tzu Chi foundation also contributed money for the families, Levine added.
“I used to tell her (Basilia) ‘why don’t you take care of me?’ and she would say ‘I’m taking care of the church,’” Antonio Mendez said. “I will go with her [to church] every day. It’s something that is necessary.”
About 100 people were displaced by the Aug. 18 fire. Many of the families have been staying in shelters or hostels. They came prepared with suitcases and bags to fill up with things they lost to the flames.
“This helps take away a little bit of the pain,” fire victim Hug Tirado, 43, said in Spanish. “We lost everything.”
Tirado filled a suitcase with clothes for his family and toys for his little girl. They have been staying in a shelter near the apartment since the fire, he said.
Other children picked up school supplies while their parents picked up kitchen appliances and canned food.
“My mom cooks for us sometimes,” said Rady Candelario, 21, who is staying in a hostel. “I don’t know how she does it. The rooms don’t have a kitchen.”
Candelario lived next door to the Mendez family. When he went back into the building their apartment door was completely black. His home would have burned down if the door weren’t closed, he said.
In the shelter, he lives on the fifth floor while his mother and stepfather live on the seventh floor.
“It’s not that bad, at least we have a place to stay,” he said.
The Mendez family will have a wake for Melisa Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Ortiz Funeral Home on 190th Street and Broadway. They will have a service at the Church of the Annunciation Friday at 9:00 a.m.
On Sunday they will fly to the Dominican Republic to bury their daughter, Antonio Mendez said. JetBlue donated the tickets for the flight.