Written By: Marisa Rheem
The morning of March 27th, 2017, I pried myself out of bed around 10:30 a.m. Already not a typical morning, I made my underwhelming two fried eggs without toast because we were out of bread. Per routine, I sat down on the couch to watch TV as I ate my breakfast.
Local news station Kron 4 was covering a 3-story apartment building in West Oakland that had caught fire around five hours earlier. Zero smoke alarms went off in the building to warn the residents, so people either woke up literally engulfed in smoke or had to be warned by neighbors knocking on their doors. Apparently, none of the fire extinguishers in the building were working either.
As I watched live video footage of a couple of the victims, with their arms tucked inside their t-shirts, it was obvious that they were cold and my heart hurt for them. Waking up to their home swarming in flames, with the only accessible route outside being the fire escape, these bereaved residents fled for their lives without any time to gather any of their most valuable possessions, much less their cell phones or shoes.
So, I packed a carry-on suitcase filled with Dirty Hippy Swag apparel and drove over to the scene of the fire. I wanted to give some warmth and comfort to the victims in any way that I could. After walking around the area and talking to policemen, firemen, and local residents, I found out that the victims of the Project Pride fire were gathering at the First Presbyterian Church on 27th St and Broadway Ave. I drove over to the church and was immediately greeted by a female priest who came right up to me and asked “Can I help you?” I can only imagine that I stood out and clearly didn’t belong.
I told her that I brought sweatshirts and sweatpants for the victims because they looked really cold on the news. She replied with “If you saw something out there that says we’re taking donations, we’re not. We aren’t officially taking donations. But you can go in there, there’s a table in the back.” I walked into a large room filled with families sitting around tables.I sat down at a table with some children and their mother and asked them if they wanted any sweatshirts. The girls, Imani and Nyesha, got excited when I said they could pick anything they wanted. Gradually, more people in the room chimed in and asked for a pair of sweatpants. People were really into the white Existential Crisis sweatpants; I probably should have brought more!
A beautiful woman named Asia slipped into the Existential Crisis sweatpants and pulled the Quantify Thy Sad hoodie over her pajamas and said to me, “Thanks. You made me look like I kind of would normally. This is really cool.” I felt good knowing that she felt pretty, confident, and comfortable in these clothes... because that’s exactly what they were made to do.
Seeing my intention for Dirty Hippy Swag manifesting in this woman’s face as she thanked me filled me with an indescribable gratitude that I could do something to help her out, however small. Following my dreams has led me down such a long, twisted path... but in this one moment, it had given me the chance to provide someone with a tangible item that would keep her warm and safe.
The more I look, the more I see opportunities to lend a helping hand. To turn strangers into neighbors. To clothe the world in comfort and style.