MONTREAL -- A day after a fire ripped through a Roxboro charity, the West Island Assistance Fund is grappling with the devastating loss.

The organization on Centre-Commercial Street helps families with food, clothing, furniture and runs a Christmas basket program.

The flames consumed the charity's administrative offices, computers and a thrift shop where used goods were sold. The thrift shop raised half the funds for the charity, according to Michael Labelle, president of the West Island Assistance Fund.

"We're devastated. We're sad. We put in an incredible amount of volunteer hours… for this incredible cause to feed West Island families that depend on us," said board member Yves Leroux. "To see this building go up in flames yesterday was utterly devastating."

The fire was a setback for the organization, but likely wouldn't directly affect food bank services for the 650 families that depend on it or Christmas basket deliveries, which operate out of a different building.

Even at a time of loss, the charity is focusing on the days ahead.

"We can't spend too much time being sad; we have to continue our mission, and we're going to roll up our sleeves and persevere," said Leroux.

Flames broke out in the basement of the building at 11 a.m. on Monday, when firefighters battled the blaze and then left the scene. People were allowed to re-enter the building to gather their personal belongings.

Then, around 2:15 p.m., smoke engulfed the building anew, this time starting on the first floor. It was unclear if the incident was the result of a different fire, or if the previous one reignited, fire officials said.

"The cause is under investigation right now. It's too early to determine, and our investigators are on scene right now to try to determine the cause," said Matthew Griffith of the Montreal police department, adding that. "it's still too early to determine if the two fires are necessarily connected."

Despite being directly next to a fire station, firefighters were unable to save the building. Between 60 and 100 firefighters from three stations again fought the flames as it consumed the building, leaving nothing but rubble. 

"It's a terrible situation for the community. It's something that's been here in existence for over 50 years, providing services for the most vulnerable in our community. Two weeks before Christmas, you can imagine the anxiety and the stress it's caused for everybody," said Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Jim Beis.

Many in the community were devastated on Tuesday by the news of the fire. Suzanne Brunet said she was heartbroken. As a single mom, she depended on the charity.

"They had wonderful things to offer. They had beautiful clothes, and the people there were extremely nice," she said. "I'm sad for the kids."

Though the Christmas food baskets are intact, the organization is seeking help collecting toys and money before they distribute the baskets.

Specifically, the organization is seeking new toys for children under six years old as part of an emergency toy drive. 

They are seeking:

  • Books (English and French)
  • Educational games
  • Puzzles
  • Crayons
  • Crafts
  • Legos (Playmobile, Duplo, etc.)

They are asking that people do not donate any electronics or toys with batteries. Items should be donated unwrapped.

The organization said that it is not accepting any other goods at this time.

"Although we appreciate your many offers, at this time, we do not have the capacity to accept the following items: No food, no clothes, no furniture. Should you wish to make a financial donation, please make your cheque payable to West Island Assistance Fund, 9 rue Centre Commerciale, Roxboro, H8Y 2N9," it said it a social media post.

Anyone who would like to contribute can drop off new toys or donations to one of the following locations:

  • West Island Community Shares
    610 Saint-Jean Blvd. #200
  • Collège Gérald-Godin
    15615 Gouin Blvd. W
  • West Island Assistance Fund offices
    21 Centre-Commercial St.