Dinner to benefit artists who lost livelihood in Etna fire
Joe Martin, an industrial designer and roboticist, and Oreen Cohen, an interdisciplinary artist, surveyed the damage June 15 to their 1,500-square-foot space in the Etna STORExpress location.
Martin, 43, said he was present during the massive May 8 warehouse fire that has left Cohen and him with “probably a few hundred thousand dollars” in equipment and personal item losses. He has insurance but isn’t sure he will receive full compensation for the damages.
“I heard some pops,” Martin said, recalling the day of the blaze, “and I thought somebody was just dropping something in the upstairs space in the automotive storage.”
Martin noticed smoke after a facilities manager walked by and asked what was happening.
“(The smoke) came billowing into the shop because I had my garage door shut, but there was open air space at the time, so it was like a black cloud rolled over the edge and filled in the space,” Martin said.
The R.E.A.A.D.Y. (Redefining Education Achieving Associate Degrees for Youths), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) & Performing Arts Foundation will host a spaghetti fundraiser for Martin and Cohen from noon to 4 p.m. June 30 at the Holy Spirit Cafeteria, 608 Farragut St., Millvale.
Tickets for “Pasta with a Purpose: A Benefit Dinner” are $9; children 4 and younger will be admitted for free. Dinner includes spaghetti, salad, dessert and a beverage. Area businesses have provided basket-auction items.
Kenneth Nickel, co-chairman of the R.E.A.A.D.Y. Foundation, said Cohen and Martin had planned on teaching workshops at the R.E.A.A.D.Y. STEM & Performing Arts Charter School.
“I’m happy that we could do this because they were so supportive of us when they first met there, and we first came to Millvale,” said Nickel, who is the charter school’s founder and CEO.
The charter school has an anticipated 2020 opening in the borough’s former Holy Spirit School. Enrollment is under way.
While the charter school is tuition-free, there is a fee for students to earn credits toward associate degrees. The foundation was developed to provide scholarships for the program. Until the school is operational, the foundation will provide funding for educational day camps, intensives and other experiences operating outside classrooms.
Nickel thinks the spaghetti benefit ties into the foundation’s mission.
“It’s also helping people in the community. So, it kind of goes beyond just helping students. It’s about helping people.”
For the past three years, Martin filled his shop with industrial sewing, welding, woodworking and casting equipment. Oreen, 33, completed welding and fabrication jobs and stored art at the warehouse.
The couple is staying in Glenshaw while they rebuild their Millvale house, which was significantly damaged by last summer’s flooding.
“I had a lot of my personal goods stored (in the Etna warehouse), so it was in a safe spot away from the flood in Millvale from last year,” Martin said.
Water from the Etna building’s sprinklers has destroyed the couple’s paperwork and tools.
“Every bit of exposed steel is covered in rust right now,” Martin said. “There’s bins of papers that are just covered in water right now. It’s just a ‘muckaquarium.’ Everything is just, like, moldy.”
Cohen said she is amazed by the support of the R.E.A.A.D.Y. Foundation board and Millvale residents. Jayme Allyson and Sandra Chatellier created an online fundraiser for the couple at gofundme.com/please-help-joe-and-oreen-if-you-can.
“Facing consecutive hardships can make you want to run away, maybe find new luck somewhere else,” Cohen said. “But when you are surrounded by the utmost kindness, it’s hard to not continue to invest and re-root ourselves here. We are very grateful and hope to pay it forward.”