The Jim Henson puppeteer and his wife who lost their East Village apartment in Thursday’s blaze have raked in over $31,000 in online donations, but they’re still a long way from returning to normalcy.
“My husband’s entire livelihood was in that apartment,” Nora Brooks told Bedford + Bowery today. “Right after [the explosion] happened, he said to me something to the effect of, ‘That’s it.’ He thought it was over.”
Among the set pieces and video equipment Matt had been using as he worked on a new web series were a number of puppets, including one that his wife tentatively valued at about $40,000.
Despite such losses, Nora is grateful for those who’ve donated to a gofundme campaign started by a friend. She attributes its success to the good will of communities in New York and her native Portland, Oregon. “A lot of that support, I think what’s fueling it is the puppeteering community, who want to see [Matt] rebuild his shop.” Nora’s speech was peppered with moments of quiet resignation amidst the gratitude as she contemplated the reality of the loss.
At the moment, the Brookses got the good luck of a friend who’s out of town and a vacant apartment to crash in for a month. And though she lost all of her books, Nora’s thesis work was saved by her own absent-mindedness when she left her hard drive and notes behind at a meeting. “We’ve just been really, really lucky,” she said gently.
The couple has received assistance from the Red Cross, which provided some money for small expenses. “I didn’t realize what they do,” she said. “They’ve really been a huge help.”
Even with the good fortune, theirs is a cautionary tale. “I think we’re an advertisement for getting renter’s insurance. Oh, my God, I wish we had,” Brooks lamented. She’s not alone. Single mother of three Diane McLean, another victim of the blast, says she was so busy she never took the steps. Even though landlord insurance typically won’t cover damages incurred by renters, only about 37 percent of renters bother with insurance, according to a survey by the Insurance Information Institute.
Nora says she’s planning litigation against the building’s owner, Maria Hrynenko (“Let’s just say she had a record of shoddy work,” was all she would say), but the inability to make a straightforward claim will make the whole process slow and complicated. (A message we left for Hrynenko today went unanswered.)
Under the terms of their evacuation, tenants of 119, 121, and 123 Second Avenue may have the option to apply for a rent reduction to $1 per month until their apartment is habitable again, though in this case that requires a full reconstruction of the buildings. Nora was unable to tell me if she and her fellow tenants plan to opt for that. This, along with other legal plans, will be discussed at a tenants meeting tonight.
While friends and neighbors continue to chip in to the Brooks’ gofundme campaign, other local businesses are supporting displaced neighbors in other ways. Theater for the New City is offering up free coats, jackets and other clothing from its costume collection. Cooper’s Craft & Kitchen, located a couple blocks down from the blast site, at East 5th Street and Second Avenue, is accepting donations for the Red Cross. And Wednesday from 9am to 9pm, Veselka, one of the businesses that managed to stay open after the blast, will give out $100 gift cards to displaced neighbors.
You can find more ways to help here.
The original version of this post was updated with information about Veselka’s giveaway.