Individuals step up to help victims of Great Oaks fire

Published: Dec. 9, 2019 at 5:44 PM CST
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Individuals believe it's up to them to help victims of the Great Oaks Apartment fire rebuild their lives.

"In reality I personally believe in individual responsibility," says Samuel Nunez, who is helping one victim after the devastation. "Sometimes we think 'oh the Red Cross will take care of them, or someone else will take care of them,'" he says. While the Red Cross and Salvation Army are designed to help, he says it's up to the community to take more immediate action and help based off specific needs.

"I was dispatched on a call for lost keys for a vehicle. It was a key that was lost in a fire," Nunez tells 23 News. I see Erhan and I see him in what looked to be pajamas, and I'm like 'what in the world,'" says Nunez. "I did my job, got paid and decided you know what, I have to do something about this."

Erhan Acil is an immigrant who lost his passport, important documentation, his belongings and his car keys in the fire. Nunez was the locksmith that arrived to help. His help didn't stop there.

"I gave him 30 dollars, and I said to him 'hey this is all I have, is there anything I can do?' So I talked to my wife," says Nunez. Together they gathered toiletries, clothes, shoes and kitchenware for Erhan.

Nunez is also an immigrant. He recalls watching the news in his home country, Ecuador, when disaster struck. "If there was disaster abroad who were the first ones who sent help? The Americans," he says. "So if we can do this abroad, definitely we can do this here, especially in Rockford."

Nunez explained three reasons that drove him to help. He says his belief in his savior and Lord Jesus Christ was a major factor. He also put himself in Erhan's shoes and imagined what would happen to his family if they lost everything. Nunez also says he is an American, and helping is part of what makes the country exceptional.

"I'm an American. And within the word American there are three letters. The last four letters are 'I- can," he explains to 23 News. "I can help, I can give some of my belongings, I can be a little bit of a source of light for this person in need."

Nunez hopes others will follow along. Sherwin Williams has a way to help. "It's a horrible time for this to happen, any time is horrible but this is especially bad," says Sherwin William representative Kathie Sesto. "To be able to help them a little bit [makes] a better community."

Three Sherwin Williams locations are taking donations. The Machesney Park, Loves Park and Rockford's East State Street location will have drop boxes, and accept cash donations for those like Erhan. To make a cash donation ask for a manager.

"It's all about the need and your willingness to go and help," says Nunez.