Twin Cities mosques, churches and other organizations have provided hundreds of winter coats to replace donations destroyed in a fire at the Salvation Army Noble Worship and Service Center in Brooklyn Park this month.
"Doing this kind of thing is a great feeling, and I wish we could do more," said Rizwan Mulla, interfaith leader of Anjuman-e-Asghari mosque, which donated more than 100 coats.
The fire, a suspected arson, destroyed coats that were to be distributed to families and resulted in smoke and water damage to the center at 10011 Noble Parkway. The suspect, who faces felony charges, allegedly also broke windows and vandalized office areas and parts of the food shelf.
Cleanup began soon after, and community support is "still trickling in," said Salvation Army Auxiliary Capt. Joshua Polanco.
"Small groups, big groups, individuals, everybody wanting to do something," he said. "It's just been beautiful."
The center closed for just one day after the fire.
"We've had coats appointments, social service appointments, food distributions," Polanco said. "We've kept going with our services."
A cleaning and restoration company was able to salvage about 400 winter coats that were onsite during the fire, and the center has so far distributed about 600 coats donated afterward. A few neighbors handed Polanco cash donations in envelopes, he said.
When staff at Golden Valley-based Moments Hospice heard about the fire, they donated 100 coats costing a total of about $4,000.
"It's a better use to give back to the community, because we would hope that somebody would do that for us if the same thing happened," said Kevin Stock, senior vice president of Moments Hospice.
Anoka Cub Scout Pack 518 originally planned to donate about 20 coats, but started working to collect more after hearing about the fire, said Alex Beaver, committee chair. "And I think we've really knocked it out of the park for us at this point," he said.
Polanco said he estimates damage to the center will total $300,000. Windows are still broken, and carpets and pews need to be replaced. Community events and programming are being held in just one room.
"[This is] the time where we serve the most people, and so having this happen to us at this critical time … it's a big setback," Polanco said.
On Nov. 3, the night of the fire, Brooklyn Park police arrested Jack Douglas Heinrich, a 33-year-old Champlin man, at the scene. Heinrich matched the description of a man seen on the center's surveillance video breaking into the church and lighting a fire in the sanctuary.
Heinrich is being held at the Hennepin County jail on felony charges of arson, damage to property and burglary, according to Brooklyn Park police inspector Elliot Faust. He said Heinrich is "very well known to the Police Department."
Even more coats are being donated this week to the center, which is making progress on repairs.
"We're grateful for just the community's response in our time of need," Polanco said. "We just feel loved and supported. And we appreciate that."