Coming together
Town residents show fire victims support through fundraiser
by Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Oct 20, 2013 | 6017 views | 0 0 comments | 109 109 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BUZZING BEES – The town performing arts center was a beehive of activity, inside and out, on Oct. 13, when After the Blaze was held.
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This is what Secaucus does; come together during a crisis. That was the rallying cry on Sunday, Oct. 13, when hundreds of town residents, employees, and others gave their time, money, and skills at “After the Blaze,” a benefit for displaced families from two recent town fires.

The event was held both inside and out of the Arthur F. Couch Performing Arts Center on Millridge Road.

Put together by Mayor Michael Gonnelli and other town officials in just a few weeks, the fundraiser was in response to fires at the Harmon Cove condominium/townhouse complex and on 4th Street over the last couple of months.

The town’s chief executive was happy with the turnout and the funds raised, and hopes the residents may soon be on their journey back to some type of normalcy.

“The fire not only violently took away their homes, but it also took away their sense of peace, and comfort. They lost everything from important documents, to heirlooms, clothing and furniture,” Mayor Gonnelli had said prior to the event. “They lost pictures of loved ones, toys for their children and left behind nothing but burnt memories and rubble. Each of these families walked away with nothing except each other and their lives.”
“I have to say about Secaucus residents, this is what they do, they come together.” – Randi Miller
The devastation at Harmon Cove literally hits home for Councilwoman Susan Pirro. She has lived there 22 years, and lives five buildings away from where the fire occurred.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors,” she said. “We received so much cooperation from the corporate community. Everyone came together to set up the entertainment and the silent auction.”

At the complex itself the cooperation was also great, according to Pirro, with condominium association President Helen Carnegie reaching out to residents and raising $2,000 in donations.

Showing support

For residents attending the fundraiser it was all about showing support.

Emergency medical technician and dispatcher Anna Gruber came for that reason.

“I feel that the best thing you can do when people have something like a fire happen is stand behind them and show that you care,” she said.

Daniela Petofi of Meadow Lane came with her two young sons in tow, Steven, 2½ years, and Andrew, 6 months, strapped to her in a chest baby carrier.

“I’m a resident of the town and you feel for these families,” she said. “So you do anything you can to help.”

Helping townspeople is what it’s all about in this community, said Randi Miller of Whimbrel Lane at the Cove, and neighbor to the 500 building fire victims.

“I have to say about Secaucus residents, this is what they do, they come together,” she said.

Staying positive

One of those families was displaced residents John and Judy Frisone. They are staying temporarily at AVE Living in Clifton, as are people from two other Harmon Cove units.

“It’s very, very nice,” Judy Frisone said. “It makes the best of a bad situation, but it’s not home. We’re trying to take one day at a time and stay positive.”


Entertainers included Lyle Leeson, Lisa Howard of “Twilight,” The Lifters, Radio Nashville, town musical group “The Faculty Meeting,” and Secaucus’s very own CAST (Community Arts Scholarship Theater) performers.

Prizes and food

There was a silent auction offering a helicopter ride, Gucci bag, Giants tickets, a Spirit cruise, Seton Hall Basketball courtside tickets, and hotel stays. A 50/50 was also held.

Food was available for a nominal fee from several local establishments and groups, including Carrabba’s, Mamajuana Café, Mausam, and the Filipino Society.


The event was sponsored by the Town of Secaucus, Hartz Mountain, the Secaucus Board of Education, the Secaucus Emergency Fund, and the Secaucus Fire Department.

All proceeds will benefit families affected by the fires.

After the Blaze was much more than all the fun festivities of the day, according to Mayor Gonnelli. It was the community’s way “to help these families who suffered so much.”

Joseph Passantino may be reached at

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