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Community leaders have pledged to help Oakland’s Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, severely damaged by fire early Saturday, continue its efforts to bring meals and other services to thousands in need.
“This is devastating for the Eastlake and Vietnamese community,” Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, whose district includes the center, said in a social media post.
She and other center supporters gathered at Clinton Park on Sunday for Lunar New Year in what Bas called a show of “solidarity and safety for all our communities and in unity.”
No one was injured in the blaze, reported shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday at the two-story structure located at 655 International Blvd. in a former school building at Clinton Park.
The fire is believed to have been sparked at a homeless camp adjacent to the building, but the cause remains under investigation, fire officials said. An unspecified number of people in the camp were reportedly displaced.
“This fire was avoidable — it’s not like we weren’t holding up the red flag.”Shirley Gee, Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay
About 35 percent of the center’s building was damaged, interrupting the nonprofit’s numerous operations in the community, the center’s executive director Shirley Gee said.
Gee said she warned city officials multiple times of fire danger from the homeless camp. “We had our own little fire brigade,” she said, describing how staffers had frequently dashed out to put out blazes with fire extinguishers.
“This fire was avoidable — it’s not like we weren’t holding up the red flag,” Gee said Saturday afternoon.
The center has been operating for 20 years — 10 of them from the location at Clinton Park, Gee said. She is determined to continue the center’s services despite the fire. Thousands of meals are distributed every week, and the center provides refuge and resources to low-income, underrepresented immigrant communities in the Bay Area.
A wide range of senior programs, housing assistance, immigration legal and education services, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and employment development are also offered at the center.
Dr. Jennifer Tran, executive director of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, joined Bas and Oakland Councilmember Sheng Thao in a Facebook video post on Saturday to offer support to the center.
Tran said she had been receiving messages all day from community members wanting to help. The Lunar New Year Market planned Sunday at the site would take place rain or shine, Tran said.
“We’re doing it just because it’s really important for us to boost our morale during this time of such pain and challenges and frustrations so that we can come up with the solutions together as community leaders and residents,” Tran said.