Willis Dady microwave fire displaces about 30 people in homeless shelter

Kitchen at Cedar Rapids facility remains unusable

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CEDAR RAPIDS — About 30 people who were planning to stay Wednesday at the Willis Dady Homeless Shelter on Fourth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids were displaced after a microwave in the building caught fire.

Denine Rushing, shelter manager, said the facility’s kitchen was empty when employees heard a loud buzzing coming from the room at about 4 p.m. After discovering the noise was coming from the built-in microwave, Rushing said she saw some smoke coming from the appliance.

“I went to call the fire department,” Rushing said. “Right after I made that call there was literal fire coming out of it. It was completely burned out and black as a crisp at this point.”

The two families in the building who had just arrived were quickly evacuated, and the Cedar Rapids Fire Department responded to the call.

The microwave had not been used by any employees or clients since about 7 a.m., when clients leave for the day, Rushing said.

Rushing said Willis Dady contacted Cedar Rapids’ Mission of Hope and the Red Cross, who will allow individuals to stay in their shelters for the night. Though clients are allowed back at Willis Dady at 5 p.m. Thursday, Rushing said the kitchen remains unusable.

Though the cause of the microwave fire still is unknown and electricity in the kitchen has been turned off, Rushing said the shelter is now dealing with water damage, especially to the hardwood floors.

Food in the kitchen’s refrigerator likely will go bad, Rushing said.

“The kitchen is an important part of what we do,” said Sam Jones, board chairman. “We have people depending on their work schedules who depend on being able to eat there as opposed to other community partners ... but I’m confident we will put something in place so these guys don’t go hungry.”

In March, Willis Dady kicked off its capital campaign to expand the shelter, which is a $3 million project. The expansion, to be built on the back of the existing shelter, would add 15,000 square feet to the existing 31,000-square-foot facility. The project would also entail a renovation of the current 30-year-old building, which was converted from a former halfway house to a shelter.

In early August, Willis Dady officials announced a goal to raise $2.5 million before beginning construction.

Jones said the shelter is about $100,000 short of that goal.

“We’re going to do what we need to do to patch up and continue to provide client services,” Jones said. “The immediacy of the need (to renovate) is even more apparent.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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