By Peter Schwartz
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On January 21, Yankees radio announcer John Sterling returned to his apartment complex in Edgewater, New Jersey and parked in the indoor garage. The elevator to his unit wasn’t working so he took a different elevator up to the fourth floor and then walked down a hallway.
Then he opened a door — but couldn’t see a thing.
“The smoke was so bad and I thought to myself, ‘John you better get the hell out of here,’ ” he recalled.
He got out unharmed, just like all of the other residents of the Avalon complex that was destroyed in that massive fire. Sterling, like many others, lost everything. But everybody survived, and that’s the most important thing.
“Yes and none of the firefighters lost their lives,” Sterling said. “And they had fire companies from everywhere, which is a really brave thing running into this horrible fire.”
Over 1,000 people were affected by the fire that destroyed 240 units. About 500 residents were permanently displaced while another 520 people living at other Avalon buildings had to temporarily leave their homes.
While the local community has come together to show support, an upcoming benefit will provide those families with additional resources.
A “Celebrity Meet and Greet” featuring sportscasters, former Yankees greats and New York Giants players will take place on Thursday, February 26 from 6:30- 8:30 p.m. at D & D’s Bar and Restaurant in New City, New York.
“I know John’s family very well,” said event creator and organizer Elaine Apfelbaum, who has spent 30 years running various charity events. “It was a devastating incident that took place in Edgewater, N.J. I said if there was anything I can do to please let me know.”
Apfelbaum is a diehard Yankees fan who attends the team’s fantasy camp and has been able to put together quite the contact list. When she set out to put this event together, the response was overwhelming.
“I’ve reached out to a couple of people that I’ve crossed paths with in the baseball world and everybody has been spreading the word,” Apfelbaum said.
Tickets for the event are priced at $50 (tax-deductible) and are available at the following locations:
— In New Jersey: Edgewater Community Center, Edgewater Borough Hall, and PBI in Upper Saddle River.
— In New York: Provident Bank Park in Pomona, RBI Sports In Valley Cottage, CSEA offices in Rockland, Westchester, Orange and Dutchess Counties, Clarkstown Recreation in New City, and D & D’s in New City.
Tickets will also be available at the restaurant the night of the event. Admission includes a two-hour open bar and light food. There will also be a sports memorabilia silent auction with items donated by Eagle Sports.
“Elaine has been the driving force,” Sterling said. “She’s fabulous. I hope we have a great turnout.”
In the fire, Sterling lost all but one of his Yankees World Series rings. (He was wearing his 2009 ring that day.) He also lost 12 local Emmy Awards, pictures of his family, movies, tapes and all of his clothes. Those losses would likely tug at the heartstrings of many people — but not John.
“I would be lying to you if I said I cared and I felt something,” he said. “I don’t feel anything. I’m not very big on inanimate objects.”
What Sterling did appreciate was the outpouring of support from so many who took the time to reach out to him in the aftermath of the fire.
“Unbelievable,” Sterling said. “It made me feel so good. I heard from every sportswriter, every sportscaster, people around the league, and all my friends from around the country.”
As for the event, Sterling will serve as the host, but it’s important to note that while this is a benefit for those who lost everything in that fire, he doesn’t want anything out of it. He said he has the wherewithal to take care of himself. There are families who need it more.
“There are displaced families that need a little bit of help,” said Sterling, who is living in a hotel until his new apartment right near the Avalon site is ready. “It really is frightening to be on the street and all you have is the clothes on your back. You don’t realize that you’ve lost everything. You think you’ll reach in your bag for another pair of glasses and there’s no bag.”
The fire was a devastating event for Edgewater but the community has been able to come together, especially with the support of local businesses. The sports benefit in New City will also go a long way to aid all of those who lost everything in the blaze.
Material things can be replaced. Thankfully, no lives were lost.
For more information on the event, contact Elaine Apfelbaum at email@example.com. If you can’t make the event but still want to make a donation, you can send a check, payable to Edgewater Strong, to Elaine at 3 Allen Court, New City, New York 10956.