SHU helps student after devastating house fire

The Seton Hall Community has been eager to help out a student who was affected by a deadly fire that left almost 70 people homeless in Union City on Jan. 23.

Stephanie Vargas and her family lived two houses down from the apartment complex where the fire originated.

She posted on Facebook, asking friends to keep those affected by the fire on 19th street in their prayers.

The director of Educational Opportunity Program, Dr. Hasani Carter, along with the student development specialists, sought out DOVE to inform the Seton Hall community of her family’s situation and ask for help, according to Vargas.

“So many departments and groups have reached out to help in the last few weeks offering clothing, furniture, gift cards and money,” she said.

Boyfriend, PJ Argento said the response was very positive. “One of the things we most love about Seton Hall is that community feel that it has, so it was really nice to see that there were so many people willing to reach out,” he said.

According to Argento, Dr. Carter brought a pickup truck to move belongings out of the house, while other students volunteered to help on the scene.

“I merely asked for prayers and received so much more,” Vargas said.

When the fire occurred, fire fighters were too late to prevent it from spreading to nearby houses. By the time they arrived, blazing debris had come in contact with the house adjacent to hers.

Residents fled from their homes. A firefighter entered her house when pieces of her neighbor’s burning roof started to travel over, Vargas said.

She said firefighters, in order to put out the fire, caused damage. They did gain control of the flames; however, plunging temperatures caused water from the hoses to freeze, making this fire particularly difficult to control.

“The house was left an ice mess and deemed uninhabitable,” Vargas said. Her family was informed that they could salvage usable belongings from their house at noon on Jan. 27.

She said that her family has remained strong through faith and the support of others. “Although we have no home, we have each other and so many amazing people supporting us,” she said. “Losing that sense of security can be terrifying, but in a way it is freeing because we don’t blame God.”

Vargas’ family is looking for a new home in Union City, and her parents are temporarily staying in a hotel. Vargas said she feels blessed by the outreach she has experienced so far.

“Thank you to every single person who has donated items and prayed for us,” she said. “No words could fully express how much it all means.”

To help fire victims contact: Union City Fire Victims Fund.

Mary Marshall can be reached at

Author: Mary Marshall

Mary Marshall is the Editor In Chief of The Setonian. She is a senior at Seton Hall, originally from Chicago. Mary is currently majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. She is a former intern for NBC Dateline, Tom Brokaw and MSNBC. Mary reports on local crime and breaking news on campus.

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