By Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Volunteers at the Gambian Youth Organization headquarters, located a few blocks from the apartment building where a weekend fire killed 17 people, sorted through piles of clothes, shoes, food and drinks to be taken to shelters for those displaced by the disaster as more donations arrived on Monday.
"We came together because the whole community is our family," volunteer Amara Touray said as members of the neighborhood's African and Latino communities, some with children in tow, carried in cartloads of donations. "All of us are affected, not just the Gambians but everyone in the community."
Many of the residents of the 19-floor Twin Parks North West building that caught fire were immigrants from Gambia, New York Mayor Eric Adams said.
Neighbors also gathered Monday at Masjid Ar Rahmah, a mosque near Twin Parks North West. There, Haji Dukuray, who came to the United States from largely Muslim Gambia to study in 1988, remembered his niece, her husband and the couple's three children, all of whom died in the fire.
"We strongly believe that you come from God and you go back to God," Dukuray, 61, said in an interview. "As a family, that's what we're holding onto."
Dukuray said the Twin Parks North West building has been a center for West Africans and some still know it as the "Touray building," after Abdulai Touray. Dukuray said Touray was a father figure to younger Gambians during a wave of immigration in the late 1980s.
"This building is the cornerstone for us in this community," Dukuray said.
He described a community of cab drivers, tradespeople and businesspeople who have gone from having no mosques to having 11 in the area. He started as a bus boy and now directs operations for an Italian restaurant chain, Dukuray said.
"It's the typical American story, American dream," he said.
Gambian Ambassador to the U.S. Dawda Fadera said Monday he traveled from Washington, D.C., to New York to learn more about the fire and share official condolences from the president of the West African country.
"This is very unfortunate, and I think I dare say that the majority of the victims apparently have their roots from Gambia," Fadera said. "Our country is currently in a state of shock."
Adama Bah, 33, an advocate for immigration reform who was volunteering at the Gambian Youth Organization nonprofit, described the local Bronx community as very diverse, with residents from West Africa and other African countries represented, as well as a large Latino community.
The Gambian Youth Organization has been operating in the neighborhood since 2002, offering such services as a weekly food pantry, Bah said.
The group has started a GoFundMe https://www.gofundme.com/f/relief-for-families-at-333-e-183rd-st for displaced residents, raising over $500,000 in relief support, far exceeding their goal of $200,000.
The Red Cross, which provided emergency housing to 22 families, including 56 adults and 25 children, said additional displaced families found lodging via families and friends, as well as through community support.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)