By KATE ALBRIGHT and DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
Montclair Brewery hosted a benefit concert to help their Walnut Street neighbors who were affected by the flooding when Ida hit the area on Sept. 1. The Sept. 29 event was headlined by Meg and Mike, The Bard Band and Dave Nachmanoff.
Denise Ford-Sawadogo, owner and general manager of Montclair Brewery at 101 Walnut Street, organized the event after seeing the damage the neighborhood suffered.
“Just seeing on the road, especially Willow Street, the bags and piles of debris from the basement apartments here, … it was just so devastating,” Ford-Sawadogo said. “And every day I would walk by and I’m like: this is horrible.”
One day on her way to work, Ford-Sawadogo stopped and spoke with one of the neighbors who told her he had to move because his apartment was no longer livable. Others in his building were in the same predicament, she said.
Montclair is seeking to raise $230,000 from donors, members and grantors between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to put us on firm footing for 2022, and continue supporting the hard work of our journalists into the new year and beyond. Visit MontclairLocal.news/donations to see how we're doing and make your contribution.
He told her: “What you see here is not even half of the stuff that was just destroyed.”
“It got totally flooded. And I wanted to do something,” Ford-Sawadogo said, adding she felt fortunate the brewery did not sustain any damage.
Ford-Sawadogo reached out to Margo Bruton from Podclair for help. Bruton suggested they hold a benefit concert featuring her musician friend, Dave Nachmanoff, who would be in town for the weekend.
“And it just kind of came together,” Ford-Sawadogo said.
Although they were aware that Councilman Peter Yacobellis and others had raised funds for flood victims, they thought more could be done.
“I’m not sure everybody is aware of exactly how much more this area of town and Bloomfield was devastated by the flood. People had water up the ceilings of their basements and their first floor. And certainly, it was very serious down here,” Bruton said.
The money collected from the fundraising will go to Montclair Mutual Aid, an organization of Montclair’s neighbors helping the community, who will disperse the funds to the Walnut Street neighbors affected. Ford-Sawadogo will also provide some input.
“We know some of the other grants or help out there are based on income in Montclair. Montclair is not a cheap place to live,” Ford-Sawadogo said. “So, maybe it doesn’t reach as many people that need help when there’s strict income requirements. So, we wanted this to be a lot more flexible to allow a lot more people to get help.”
Kimberly Latortue, a member of Montclair Mutual Aid and a resident of North Willow Street, had just closed on her new home two weeks before the flooding. The driveway of her new home was destroyed by the overflow of a stream near her home and her basement was flooded to the ceiling. The estimate to replace her driveway is $8,000.
“We applied for FEMA and unfortunately there’s just a long waiting list and have not heard back. Insurance is backed up and I haven’t heard back from them either,” Latortue said. “It’s just a waiting game and there are certain things like a furnace and a hot water heater that need to be taken care of right now. And the funds aren’t there to do it.”
Latortue said fundraising like the one at Montclair Brewery will help many of her neighbors who are in her situation.
Tom Heston, who rents a second-floor apartment in the Walnut Street area, didn’t experience any personal damage but witnessed the headaches of his neighbors and his landlord.
“North Willow was a river. Claremont was a lake. Our basement flooded. We had about 2.5 feet of water,” Heston said.
Heston said his landlord had to replace a number of things in the basement including the boiler and hot water heaters. Heston also saw the piles of damage on North Willow and Claremont for days. He attended the fundraising event to not only help his landlord, but his neighbors as well.
“We’re attuned to the goings on of Montclair and are a frequent customer of the brewery, and they’re very community oriented,” Heston said. “They try to do the right thing, which is great. And they’re doing this night for this particular micro community, which is really great. I felt like I really needed to be here considering that I live a block away.”
Ford-Sawadogo said there might be a second fundraising event in the future if the need for funds continues.
“Tonight, we were bound by the musician’s availability, but if we do something, then we’d have a lot more time to plan and prepare for it,” Ford-Sawadogo said. “Maybe have some more local musicians involved and hopefully raise even more money.”
Montclair Mutual Aid will not have an income requirement other than living in the Walnut Street area.
“It’s in line with how mutual aid wants to help the community with the no questions asked,” Latortue said.
The Yacobellis Ida Fund donated $1,000 to the fundraiser as matching funds.
“Denise and I talked when she was first planning the fundraiser and I offered funds to help get the giving going to help the Walnut St. residents and businesses,” Yacobellis said.
Ford-Sawadogo said she appreciates all the donations that have come in. For people who weren’t able to attend the fundraising and want to donate, can go to montclairbrewery.com.
Editor’s note: Kate Albright is a member of Montclair Mutual Aid.