Ithaca, N.Y. — Cornell graduate student Soshana Smith went to bed at 11:30 p.m. yesterday after watching The Daily Show — it was just another weeknight of watching Jon Stewart scribble, smile and satirize.


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Five hours later, she was plucked from her sleep by the sound of loud crashes and crackling. In her sleepy haze, she tried to figure out what anyone could be doing so late.

It wasn’t long before the haze lifted, only to be replaced with another surreal image.

Photo by IV’s Ryan Landvater

“When I put my glasses on, I could see through the glass that the entire area was orange,” she said. “It was pretty obvious from the color and crackling noise that something was on fire.”

Last night’s fire on Stewart Avenue caused significant damage at The Chapter House and adjacent buildings, leaving at least 35 Cornell University students displaced. Before leaving the house in the throes of the fire, Smith grabbed her phone, a jacket and pair of shoes.

“That’s all I have left now,” she said, her voice breaking.

Smith has clung to the hope that there would be something left of her home. That was until she received an email this morning saying the house was to be demolished. However, she said, the community has overwhelmed her with its support.

“I am astounded by all the generosity. So many people offered me places to stay, people are offering any help they can.”

Ithaca local Walaa Horan is one such supporter, and she offered Smith her spare room. Horan said this flood of support defines the community.

“Even after the Simeon’s thing, everyone banded together to help the people that needed help,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs, religious belief or standards are. Ithaca is about standing with the community.”

Several initiatives are ongoing to help those displaced by the fire.

Here are some:

  • The Cornell Mortar Board is holding a drive from April 15 through April 17 to collect clothing and cash donations for the displaced students. The group has also started a GoFundMe campaign. “We will have tables set up to collect goods that people would like to give to the affected students,” said one of the organizers, Zander Liem. “The money raised will either go to the Student Assembly fund set up for the students or directly to the students.” The drive will be held from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on all three days on Ho Plaza.
  • A GoFundMe campaign that went live this afternoon has raised more than one-fifth of its goal in three hours. The campaign is seeking funds to help student Savannah Kramer repurchase clothing, school supplies, food. Emily Shapiro organized the campaign for her Phi Mu sorority sister. “The money raised in the GoFundMe will be given directly to Savannah,” Shapiro said. “We are hoping to raise enough money for her that there will be excess to help out other victims of the fire, especially her roommates, who are close friends of hers.”
  • Cornell University’s Dining Services and the Cornell Store are supplying food and clothing for these students. The college is also providing temporary housing.
  • The Ithaca Red Cross is providing blankets and vouchers for other supplies.
  • Local landlord John Novarr will be giving some of the displaced students furnished apartments for the remainder of the semester.

Ithaca Voice coverage of Chapter House fire

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