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EARTHQUAKE: THE LONG ROAD BACK : A Helping Hand From Tenants 1,983 Miles Away : Charity: Michigan's Northridge Meadow hopes to raise $10,000 for victims of collapsed Valley complex.


One thousand nine-hundred eighty-three miles from the epicenter of last week's disaster, a special sort of empathy has launched a fund-raising effort for victims of the quake.

The tenants of the Northridge Meadow apartments--in Northville, Mich.--have set up a collection for residents of the collapsed Northridge Meadows complex, where 16 died in the quake.

It is pure coincidence, the tenants' group says, that their 112-unit, Colonial-style complex has almost the same name as the quake's best-known casualty. Until this week, resident manager Eva Pieper said, she had no idea that somewhere out there, another community of "1 and 2 br apts with a/c and w/w cpt" bore such a similar name.

"Then a resident of ours called me at work and said, 'Do you have a TV?" Pieper said. "I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Well, turn it on--Northridge Meadows just went down.' "

Stunned and intrigued--she didn't hear the telltale "s"--Pieper switched on the TV in her suburban Detroit beauty salon. And there it was, a scene of devastation that was occurring far away but suddenly seemed close to home.

"Well, clients here kept asking if we were the same company, and I would say no," Pieper said. "Then the owner of our complex called this weekend and said he wanted to do something because these people must need so much help."

Pieper too was touched. An immigrant from Poland, she recalled the sense of rootlessness she felt as a child when she and her parents came to the United States carrying one suitcase apiece.

"We had nothing," the 26-year-old beautician said. "I know what it's like to have someone give you a helping hand."

So, at the behest of the owner and his daughter, property manager Beth Brooks, Pieper on Monday set up the Northridge Meadows Relief Fund, and began soliciting donations from Detroit-area merchants and the tenants in her complex. The goal, she said, is to raise $10,000 to disburse on the basis of need to the survivors and the families of those who died.

Assisting her, she said, has been the Northridge apartment manager, who has promised to help locate tenants so Pieper and Brooks can present checks to them personally when the goal is reached. Pieper said it took her most of a day to track down her counterpart, whom she finally located at the Northridge United Methodist Church.

The Northridge manager could not be reached for comment, but volunteers at the church confirmed that Pieper has conferred with them and the manager almost daily.

"She said she felt like they were a sister city sort of, except in this case it was a sister apartment house," church volunteer Jean DeMint said.

"The reaction has been, of course, grateful. But we can't tell her yet who will need the money the most because we just don't know."

Meanwhile, Pieper said, the fund is building steadily, with donations large and small. Half of the $2,000 collected in the last week came from the apartment owner and his family, she said. The rest has come from customers at Pieper's Shear Impressions Salon, where she has offered free haircuts to $200 contributors, and from the Northridge Meadow tenants in Northville, who have been adding $20 and $40 donations to their rent checks.

"I have promised the people here that we will give this money directly to the victims themselves, and not use it for anything else," Pieper said. "It'll probably take us about two weeks to meet our goal, but we plan to fly down and write checks to the actual people. We're going to pay for the plane tickets ourselves, unless an airline wants to sponsor us."

Pieper admitted 1,983 miles is a long stretch for a helping hand.

"But the point is this," she said: "These people were sleeping happily in their homes, and in the middle of the night, within 20 seconds, their world turned upside-down.

"They lost everything. And something like that could just as easily happen to any of us, at any time."

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