Eureka Springs opens its heart to family who lost everything

Monday, March 27, 2006
While one of the Mendes-Tapia family was a little camera shy, others in the large group expressed their happiness through smiles, giggles and a handmade sign saying "Thank You All Eureka Springs." The family lost everything they owned in a late night blaze on March 13. Photo courtesy of Lydia Bush

EUREKA SPRINGS -- "We lost everything, it's all gone, (all those) years of working," says Juana Mendes, her voice trailing off. "But we have each other and that's what is important."

Juana and 13 other members of her family all lived in the apartment complex, commonly known as "Taterville," that was destroyed by fire on March 13. Another family with two children was also left homeless. The complex was located on the outskirts of Eureka Springs.

Juana, with the help of translator Lydia Bush, told about the night their lives changed forever.

"Everyone was asleep, when all of a sudden someone was pounding on the door. I was afraid and woke up my husband to see what was going on. Our neighbor was yelling 'Get out, get out, there's a fire!'"

After getting herself and her family outside to safety, Juana said she saw flames coming from next door and below their home. Her 12-year-old son, Daniel, then began running door-to-door to wake up other neighbors.

Juana said she had hoped the fire department would be able to stop the blaze, "But even though there were many firefighters, it spread too quickly."

Soon after the fire, the American Red Cross and Inn of the Ozarks, with the assistance of local trolleys, aided in helping the residents find shelter.

"Right away the people of Eureka Springs were good to us. Randy Wolfinbarger and the Inn of the Ozarks gave us a place to stay for three days until we could get organized.

"The Red Cross gave us some emergency money and the churches and people of the community have been so very, very kind. Thank you to all who have helped," said Juana.

Before the fire, the Mendes-Tapia family had been told they were going to have to vacate the property, and had begun negotations with Boyd and Lydia Bush to purchase a tri-plex owned by the couple.

Lydia said it was a twist of fate.

"Unfortunately, the money that was to be used for the down payment was lost in the blaze after being left in a jacket pocket."

Lydia, who comes from an immigrant background herself, said she and Boyd "knew what we had to do, because it was the right thing to do."

The Bush family, along with the Mendes-Tapia families, wrote up a contract on March 18 with the help of Javier and Daniela Ortiz. Javier is a lawyer and Daniela had been a bank loan specialist and translator for Community First Bank before leaving to have a baby.

The contract stated the Boyd and Lydia would forgive the down payment and sell the tri-plex, interest free, to the families.

"We did it this way to make sure everything was done legally, to protect them and their future," added Lydia.

Juana says she wants to say a special thank you to Erica Maleckyj and Ruth Daly (Lydia's mother and aunt) for allowing the entire family to live in their home, rent free until they can move into their new homes. Juana hopes to be in the new homes in April.

Lydia adds there are still needs for items. "They need bunk beds, dressers and kitchen appliances like blenders, toasters, microwave, coffee makers etc., televisions, VCRs, and work tools for the men.

"The children have no toys, the boys are into bikes and soccer and Daniel lost his new cleats. Just imagine three families who lost everything that created their home and start making a list."

For further information or if you would like to assist the Mendez-Tapia families, please call (479) 253-6297 or (479) 871-0863.

A benefit account has been set up for them at Community First Bank. For further information or to make a donation, please call (479) 253-0500.

Eureka Kids is also accepting donations of money and household goods for the other family affected. To donate, call Barb Dunnam at 253-8006.

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