HARTFORD — Whether through a carefully planned fund set up by lawyers or cash collected on the streets, Hartford has been reaching out to the people affected by the Bedford Street fire last month that killed a mother and her daughter.
A city funeral home has no plans to bill the family of 4-year-old Shantay Drake for her services and burial, which were Saturday. A non-profit and a law firm teamed up to start a fund for Shantay's 6-year-old sister, Kayla, who survived the fire. And a community activist took up a cash collection on Bedford Street to help the family.
Those are just some of the efforts that are underway.
"Obviously, a very tragic circumstance, but the way the schools and the community have responded speaks well of our community," said Shawn T. Wooden, the city council president and partner at the Hartford law firm Day Pitney.
On Jan. 29, the day after the fire, the Rev. Henry Brown walked up and down Bedford Street in the frigid cold, stopping cars to tell motorists about a vigil he was planning in honor of Shantay — her mother, Susan Therrien, died later of her injuries — and talked about starting a collection for the family. He presented the money to Shantay's father, Bobby Drake, later in the week.
FUSE, or Family Urban Schools of Excellence, donated $1,500 to a fund for the family, and the Jumoke Academy at Milner School in Hartford, where Shantay attended pre-kindergarten, added money it raised from a dance and bake sale. FUSE asked Day Pitney to manage the fund, which now has $3,500, Wooden said Thursday.
Wooden, who was the 2012 graduation speaker at the school and launched a summer reading challenge there last year, said the fund is solely for the benefit of Kayla, who also attends Milner. Kayla is living with her maternal grandmother's sister, said Karen Blassingame, Therrien's partner.
It makes sense for Day Pitney to be involved with the fund, Wooden said. "It's something that our law firm is very, very good at," he said. "We have a whole department that administers estates."
He plans to seek more donations, which may be made out to Shantay Drake Memorial Fund for Kayla Drake and mailed or delivered to any Bank of America branch, including the one at 919 Albany Avenue, Hartford, CT 06112.
State Rep. Douglas McCrory and local businessman Kevin Brookman set up another account at the city employees' credit union to help pay for funeral expenses and other costs.
Ahern Funeral Home agreed to take charge of the services for Shantay, Brookman said. The family's plans for Therrien weren't clear.
Owner Francis R. Ahern Jr. said he will not bill the family for Shantay's services.
"That's wonderful," Blassingame said Thursday. "That's wonderful."
J.W. Florists in the Unionville section of Farmington provided flowers free of charge, Ahern said, and Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford donated the burial plot.
Area religious organizations have expressed an interest in pitching in to cover costs, and the office of Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra has asked for an itemized bill of the funeral expenses, Ahern said.
The Hartford Police Department provided a police escort that included two motorcycles and four sports utility vehicles for the funeral motorcade, Ahern said, which he said is unusual for this type of service.
Any money that comes in after the funeral costs are covered will go to Kayla, Brookman said. The fund he and McCrory set up, the Bedford Street Fire Victim Relief Fund, is at the Hartford Municipal Employees Federal Credit Union, 443 Franklin Ave., Hartford, CT 06114.
They also arranged for the collection of winter clothing, including footwear, at a city church. Such items may be dropped off at Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Sigourney St., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or during Sunday services.
A nonprofit group called Community Partners In Action already has donated items to other victims of the Bedford Street fire, said Deborah Barrows, program manager for the agency.
The organization heard that one resident's wife was expecting a baby and donated a bassinet, baby clothes, bottles, formula, diapers and other items, said Barrows, a former acting police chief in the city. When the employees presented the gifts at Hartford community court, where the program is based, she said, "The tears started coming out of his eyes."
Many coats are left over from the Community Partners collection, and are available for anyone who needs one at the community court, 80 Washington St., she said.
"Some people are doing such extraordinary things for other people," Barrows said. "It's heartwarming. It really is."