By Ashley Chapman
Maria Castro likes to talk about how her 17-year old son, Jorge Rosario—or Jay Jay, as she calls him—spontaneously dove into the freezing ocean on a cold day last November after a construction job for post-Sandy clean up in the Rockaways.
Not long after that, Jorge was fatally shot in the head at a party in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
For Maria and her remaining three children: Diamond, 12; Reyshawn, 6; and Crystal, 1; the months since then have become increasingly difficult. Three months after the Castro family lost Jorge, they lost their home.
On February 17, a fire started in the apartment next door to the Castro’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Maria was across the street while Diamond was home with the baby, Crystal. Maria saw smoke coming out of the building and started running towards it just as Diamond emerged, carrying Crystal in her arms.
“The first thing I thought was ‘Thank God, my kids are okay,’” said Maria. “But then I began to think, ‘What else will God put in front of me’? I don’t bother nobody, I don’t hurt nobody.”
The fire destroyed the Castro’s apartment on a bitter cold morning when New Yorkers were stocking up on winter supplies, preparing for the snowstorm that was expected to hit the next day. But unlike most people, the Castros had not only lost their basic supplies—necessities like baby blankets and diapers—they had also lost all of their possessions, including irreplaceable photos of Jorge.
Within hours of the fire, the New York Red Cross provided Maria and her kids with vital emergency support: diapers and a blanket for the baby, a debit card to purchase essential items, and hotel lodging for the entire family. Since then, the Red Cross has helped the Castros get settled into a more permanent home.
“As a mother protecting her children,” said Maria, “if I didn’t have the Red Cross to put us in a hotel, I think I would have just gone to a hospital waiting room to sleep. At least it would be warm and safe there for my kids. Otherwise, we’d be on the streets.”
“My kids are my priority,” she added. She admitted that the past few months have been especially hard on Diamond, who, at 12, is old enough to absorb the pain.
“My daughter cried a lot and said things like, ‘I lost my big brother. Now we are losing our home. What else will happen to us?’” Maria said.
For now, Maria tries to provide her kids a sense of comfort in the routine. On the first Sunday after the fire, she took them to church and then to get ice cream, as they had every other Sunday. That was when Diamond asked her what the Red Cross does.
“I explained to her how the Red Cross has helped us,” Maria said. “And she said, ‘The Red Cross makes us safe. Without the Red Cross, we would be sleeping in our car, Mom.’”
These days, when you ask Maria how she is doing now, she speaks evenly, but then her voice cracks.
“I will not forget about him,” she said. “Everything is hitting me and I’ve got to be strong. I have to stay focused. I thank God every day for waking me up. I say, ‘Today’s a new day, I have to keep my head up.”
With the help of the Red Cross, this task has hopefully been made a little easier.