Waupelani Heights residents await news of salvaged belongings as donations flood in

Days after fire destroyed their homes, residents of a Waupelani Heights apartment building in State College are still waiting anxiously to learn whether the flames, smoke and water spared any of their possessions.

That hasn’t stopped the donations from rolling in. A drive held over the weekend at Tussey Mountain and a collection center at the State College YMCA branch have netted everything from clothes to toys to infant care items.

Cindy Pasquariello, YMCA membership coordinator, said the community’s response has been overwhelming.

Pasquariello has been working with P.J. Mullen, program director at local radio station B94.5, who organized a donation drive held over the weekend at Tussey Mountain that filled rooms with thousands of items.

The drive will continue Tuesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, where during the State College Spikes game organizers will be accepting additional donations for those families in need. Collections areas will be located at the ballpark gates.

The American Red Cross is providing help for the residents with emergency shelter, clothing and other necessities. The relief organization accepts cash donations, which can be made online.

Pasquariello said those who want to give during the B94.5-sponsored drive are asked to donate gift cards. She explained that the families still don’t know what they lost during the fire and what they will need to replace.

Centre Region Fire Director Steve Bair said Monday that it could still be some time before residents will have that chance.

Bair said the Centre Region fire marshals and insurance companies have nearly completed their investigations into the blaze. While there has been no update on the cause of the fire, Bair said that could come as soon as Wednesday.

After that, he said, officials will turn things over to the building’s management company to help residents retrieve their personal property.

Complicating the situation, Bair said, is that a large portion of the building is believed to be structurally unstable.

“There is a lot of concern,” he said.

The next step for residents will be finding alternative housing.

Helping will be a coalition of officials with the American Red Cross, Centre County, State College and Housing Transitions Inc.

Penn State has also been actively involved, offering housing on campus to the families of 12 graduate students who lived in the Waupelani Drive apartments.

Ron Quinn, executive director of Housing Transitions, said representatives from the groups and agencies are tentatively planning to sit down with residents on Monday to answer questions and help guide them toward new housing opportunities.

“Unfortunately we’ve had this experience before with the Hotel Do De (fire in Bellefonte),” Quinn said. “It’s a process we’ve already utilized.”

Quinn said Housing Transitions has been fielding calls from community members who want to pitch in.

“We’ve had people actually offer apartments. Both landlords and community members who have properties in the borough,” he said. “What we are seeing now are people offering places to stay, both in the short term and the long term.”

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose everything,” Quinn said.