After a Monday morning fire tore through the Bensonhurst duplex they share, a half-dozen food delivery workers launched an online fundraiser, hoping to get a new apartment and replacement supplies — including e-bikes.
The men, who belong to Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of mostly indigenous Guatemalan food delivery workers organizing for better working conditions, knew they could count on some help from their colleagues.
But they didn’t expect the outpouring of support they received from the community, from clothes to free e-bike repair to thousands of dollars in cash.
By Wednesday evening, more than 300 people had donated more than $22,000 to their online fundraising campaign, well above the men’s $13,000 goal.
“I don’t have the words to express how grateful we are,” said an emotional Miguel Tuluxan, a 30-year-old delivery worker who lived in the house. “This is too much for us.”
“We lost our home, but we gained the love and support of a community,” Tuluxan said in Spanish. “And that’s priceless.”
The Workers Justice Project, an immigrant day laborer advocacy group, created a separate fundraiser for the family of eight who lived upstairs.
No Bikes, No Work
The first floor of the 85th Street house was gutted in the blaze, with the debris covered in soot, ash and water. Inspectors for the city Department of Buildings declared the structure off-limits Monday.
It took 106 firefighters nearly two hours to put the two-alarm fire under control, a FDNY spokesperson said, adding that the fire’s cause remains under investigation. Six firefighters suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Six of the seven men who lived on the first floor are food delivery workers for apps such as DoorDash, Relay and GrubHub, and an additional tenant is a construction worker. All seven are Maya K’iche’ people from the rural highlands of Guatemala.
The family upstairs, which includes construction workers and a newborn baby, escaped the fire without injury.
Tuluxan was the only one awake in his apartment when he smelled smoke and felt heat underneath his feet just shortly after 8 a.m. Monday. Most of the guys, he explained, sleep until late because they work late into the night delivering food.
He shouted at his roommates to wake up, and they managed to escape the home before it was engulfed in flames.
The men lost all of their belongings, including clothes and cash. Three of the six men who worked delivery lost their e-bikes, which they kept locked on the side of the house; the rest were damaged. Fully outfitted, the bicycles can cost up to $3,000 each.
“Without the bikes, we can’t work, so we have nothing holding us over right now and rent is due next week,” tenant Hugo Pérez, 24, told THE CITY in Spanish.
In a video filmed on Tuesday, a day after the fire, several deliveristas surveying the destruction found a relatively unscathed branded insulated bag from Relay — charred on the outside but in good condition on the inside.
Seven members of Los Deliveristas Unidos (+ @workersjusticep) and their families lost everything in a devastating fire on Monday morning in the Bensonhurst home they shared.— claudia irizarry aponte (@clauirizarry) January 27, 2021
They even lost the e-bikes they’re required to use for work. pic.twitter.com/18vSNQ6q3r
“Wow, look at how resistant these bags are,” fellow deliverista Sergio Ajche, who did not live in the house, remarked while shooting the video.
Another man holds the upper flap up to show the inside of the bag: “Think you can deliver like this?” he jokes.
“We lost basically all our physical possessions,” Tuluxan told THE CITY. “But we are all unharmed, we’re alive, and that’s all that matters.”
Aid From Across Brooklyn
By Wednesday, all seven men had moved into another apartment in the neighborhood. The cash raised by their GoFundMe will go toward payments for new e-bikes, as well as rent and upfront lease fees, Pérez told THE CITY.
Their old landlord also returned a security deposit, they said.
Several members of Los Deliveristas Unidos were at the new home helping the displaced men get settled in.
The family that lived upstairs are staying with relatives as they look for a new home, said Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Workers Justice Project.
Meanwhile, other organizations in Brooklyn chipped in to help the workers.
South Brooklyn Mutual Aid is supplying clothes for the fire victims, said Whitney Hu, an organizer with the group.
Hu added that her group and Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, a mutual aid group in the neighborhood that has a bike network to support cyclists, are working to repair the burnt bikes and replace the ones that were destroyed.
On Wednesday afternoon, an anonymous donor gave $9,000 to the delivery workers’ GoFundMe, putting them well above their goal.
The workers “almost cried of shock,” Guallpa said of the donation.
By that evening, several southern Brooklyn lawmakers, including state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and City Council members Justin Brannan and Mark Treyger, had donated via the GoFundMe, the page’s donation stream shows.
“To the people who have supported us now, thank you,” Pérez told THE CITY. “The support has been overwhelming, it’s more than we deserve.”