Town officials may have completed their investigation into an April 17 fire that destroyed a Lake Shore Drive home, but the aftermath, for the family left homeless, is a story just beginning.
Patrice Nicita watched town crews bring down her recently renovated home with tears in her eyes.
"We lost everything," she told Patch.
It turns out that the Nicita family--Patrice, Angelo and their children, 7-year-old Megan and 3-year-old Alex--did not lose everything in the fire. They still have friends and family looking out for them.
Jason Tremper, a software developer and musician who lives in Succasunna, has been friends with Patrice Nicita since 1986, when they were seventh graders at Parsippany's Central Middle School.
"As soon as I heard what happened, I started brainstorming ways that I could help," Tremper said. "I spent the first day and night researching online donation sites that were available. While doing that, I found out that Ed Beck, another friend and former classmate, was doing the same thing."
While Tremper was trying to set up a donation website, Beck was in the process of creating a Facebook page devoted to helping the Nicita family. After the friends talked and pulled in another pal, Lynn Schwartz, to help with the Facebook effort, they joined forces and put a plan into place.
Beck and Schwartz's Nicita Family Fire Relief Facebook page asks visitors to donate items or money to help the Nicitas get back on their feet.
"Think about replacing everything you currently own, from an everyday kitchen utensil, to linens, to electronics and appliances," said Beck, who now lives in Rockaway. "How would you pay for it? Not to mention the walls that shelter you and your family. The effort will be ongoing."
Schwartz, who said she has been close friends with Patrice Nicita for more than 22 years, said the Facebook page presents the family's most current needs for clothing, household items and more.
According to Beck, the Facebook page has already seen more than 12,000 visitors.
"We had the site up and running within only a few days of the fire," said Tremper, who added that the project's aim is to "get as much assistance for the Nicitas as possible, while trying to allow them the space they need to take care of the really important stuff."
The organizers said the plan is working.
"I have mail and checks coming in from virtual strangers who heard [the Nicitas'] story and wanted to do something to help," she said. "To all the wonderful souls that have already helped out, thank you for being such beautiful people."
A number of the Nicitas' friends and relatives offered up their homes as 'drop off locations' for people who want to make non-monetary donations. The specifics can be found on the Facebook page and on the website.
"As of right now, they've got all of the necessities," Tremper announced. "They have a place to stay and plenty of clothes thanks to so many generous people. ... We've actually asked via the website that people stop sending clothes.
"If you asked [the Nicitas] what they need, they'd probably just say they need their house back. That is the ultimate goal. They want to rebuild on their property," he continued. "My goal is to drum up as much financial assistance as we can, because getting back to where they were is going to take a lot. Imagine coming home from work to find that your house, everything in it, everything you've worked for your entire life is completely gone. There are so many things that they won't be able to replace, but we can certainly try to help with the rest."
According to Schwartz, raising money is the primary goal of the effort.
"It will be a long haul, an ongoing process, and aside from monetary donations, the Nicitas need to know that people will be with them for the long haul," said the current Pompton Plains resident. "We need to make an effort to keep them in people's thoughts and prayers, and if/when the time comes when they need physical help, to mobilize people to help rebuild and put their lives back together."
If people want to help, organizers suggested that they spread the word about the relief effort and about a benefit concert scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday May 26 at Parsippany's Blackthorn Irish Restaurant and Pub. Tremper's band Smackwater Jack will perform.
"If you can donate a few dollars that would be fantastic," said Schwartz. "Every little bit will help the Nicitas get back home."