, Salem, MA

Local News

April 10, 2014

Picking up the tab

Restaurants feed family displaced by fire, for free

SALEM — It’s not just losing your belongings. It’s not just living out of bags in a series of hotel rooms with your boyfriend and 9-year-old daughter.

It’s the everyday kind of stuff, like making meals.

Michele Baldassari said one of the most difficult parts of life for her and her family since they emerged physically unscathed from the fire that destroyed their apartment on School Street last week is that now she has nowhere to cook.

Hotels offer limited cooking options at best, and Baldassari said the family’s room at the Clipper Ship Inn features only a microwave and a refrigerator.

Also, promising leads to rent new apartments have so far amounted to nothing.

“I don’t know how long this is going to go on for,” she said. “It ain’t easy to find apartments.”

Now, thanks to an effort kick-started by her friend Jennifer Vargas, Baldassari, her boyfriend, Augustine Vega, and her daughter, Aaliyah, have been eating dinners for free at a number of charity-minded local restaurants.

Vargas said she heard about the fire and immediately contacted Baldassari when she realized her friend was involved. The two have known each other since they were middle-school age.

“She told me she wasn’t really getting any help at all,” Vargas said. “I just started cold-calling restaurants.”

The family actually had received some help already. The Red Cross paid for them to stay at Hawthorne Hotel for two nights. John Boris, chairman of the Salem Housing Authority, has been helping pay for their hotel rooms since then and using his contacts in the community to try to find them a new place.

“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what I’d do,” Baldassari said. “It’s just so scary ... the last thing that’s going to end up happening is I’m going to be living in my car.”

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