Compassion from Strangers as Child Caskets Prepared for Gesner Fire Funerals

In the midst of mourning four small children who perished in a massive July 5 fire on the 6500 block of Gesner Street and protests laden with distrust of the Philadelphia Fire Department's response time, compassion from strangers has blossomed as two Liberian families prepare to bury their children.

Funeral director and East Oak Lane resident Patricia Quinn has a heartfelt desire to eliminate the families’ funeral costs. Her compassion has ignited a chain reaction among others who have also stepped up to the plate.

This week, Quinn hand-delivered and donated the 24-inch white infant casket that will carry the tiny remains of 7-week-old Taj Jacque to the Turay Memorial Chapel. She also donated the 54-inch white metal child coffins for 4-year-old twins Maria and Marialla Bowah and 4-year-old Patrick Sanyeah.

"It’s very sad, but I’m glad to know that I can at least help out and ease their financial burden so they can get on with their life as best they can. Pretty much all the funeral expenses have been covered," said Quinn of Guckin Funeral Mansion.

The dainty child caskets are accented with angels and gold handles and the infant casket is adorned with cherry wood handles and gold tips. Quinn and funeral director Antoine Turay gently arranged the four small coffins inside the North Philadelphia funeral chapel on Wednesday. 

They are hoping their acts of kindness will help bring the city together in the wake of the tragedy, particularly after a protest days after the fire resulted in at least three people being arrested.  

Quinn was able to provide the caskets through her organization, Final Farewell. Quinn started the nonprofit in 2005 to assist with child funeral costs for families who can't afford them and also for those who can.

She and Turay have coordinated efforts to cover the costs of burying the four Southwest Philadelphia children. Turay, who is from Sierra Leon, feels obliged to ensure there is no monetary cost passed onto the families. For him, it’s a matter of serving his community. 

"No bones about it. We will definitely do what we have to do under the circumstances. If any donations come in, let it go to the families to rebuild," said Turay. "People are still displaced. The fire victims have a long way to go. Have a heart. We will work it out."

Turay estimates the discounted cost for funeral services and burials is $10,000.

The date and location for the funerals has not been set. The families are waiting for relatives to arrive and according to Turay, in Liberian and West African culture, it is not uncommon, when families are mourning for a funeral to take place 30 days after a death.

He expects the services to be “spiritual and filled with emotion.”

The two Philadelphia natives have been reaching out to vendors and local funeral directors to donate their services, and many have answered the call.

A Catholic priest worked to arrange for the burial plots, a Baptist church has come forward to donate their sanctuary, and Wood Funeral Home, Savin Louis E & William W Funeral Home and John F. Givnish Funeral Home have donated services to date. The dogooders came forward after a chaplain reached out to Quinn to inform her of the Gesner tragedy. 

"We are in a position to do it. It's a tragedy you want to make easier and not worse," said John Givnish. "Trish rounds everybody up. We are paying it forward and in a position to help."

Nearly two weeks ago, Dewen "Marie" Bowah was home with her five children and babysitting two the two boys when a fire broke out about 2:30 a.m. Bowah was able to help her three oldest children escape through a second floor window, which she also used to get out of the house alive. She was not able to reach the youngest kids who were sleeping in a separate room where they perished.

Quinn has assisted in hundreds of child funerals around the United States including funerals for the six victims of a 2008 fire that also impacted the Liberian community in Philadelphia.

"Too many to count," Quinn said.

Right before dropping off Jacque's infant coffin, she met a Lancaster County funeral director to deliver another child casket for a 5-year-old boy who was killed after his father accidentally ran over him.

"Children die every day just like adults and unfortunately they all don't make the news. That's why I do it," Quinn said.
 Pictured: Quinn, Turay and Mikel Burrel with the child caskets. 

Contact Sarah Glover at 610-668-5580, or follow @skyphoto on Twitter.

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