Winer Aguirre stood in front of fellow worshippers Sunday at Lakewood Chapel in Arlington Heights, joined by his wife, Sonia Romero, and his daughter, Jeimy. “I lost everything, but I got a new family right now,” he said of the congregation that’s welcomed his family since he and dozens of others were left homeless Wednesday by a fire that ripped through the River Trails condominium complex in Prospect Heights.
Aguirre’s family is among many to have sought refuge and assistance at Lakewood since last week’s fire. On Sunday, they joined church members at a special healing service that addressed the challenges ahead and praised the work that’s been done so far.
“We have been through such a whirlwind the last three days,” said Sue Elleson, wife of Lakewood Pastor John Elleson. “You just don’t understand how it is to stand back and watch this work. It’s just awesome. Everybody does what they can.”
She also praised the spirit of survivors like Jeimy, who celebrated her 10th birthday Saturday with cupcakes and balloons in the church’s lobby. During the Sunday service, she joined a group of children reading Psalms in front of the congregation.
“Even though their home is gone, she has a smile on her face from morning to night, this little girl. And she has got so much joy in her heart,” Elleson said.
Another resident, Ann Mijid, wiped away tears during the service. Later, she sat with her family, eating food dished out by volunteers, gaining a brief respite from the difficult task of getting her life back together.
Help continued to pour into the church Sunday. Among those leaving donations was Cesar Morales, who drove from Waukegan with his family. Months earlier, they lost their home in Beach Park to fire.
“We know what it feels like to have your home pretty much completely gone,” said his daughter, Jennifer Morales.
John Elleson said cars had been lined up for two days along Palatine Road after the fire, with people offering help.
“Moms would come and bring their two little children and say, ‘We just want our child to be a part of this,'” he said.
The Ellesons’ son, Nathan, said the church is working on finding permanent housing for the residents, with the goal of finding something local.
“The main thing is they all work around here,” he said. “We don’t want to take them and move them to Chicago. What we’re working on in the next phase — I’m kind of heading it up with my dad — is I’m going to be going to different apartment buildings. Then we’re going to try to get them furniture.”