Richmond fire victims receiving help from the community
on January 31, 2017
In the small enclave of Point Richmond, members of the community are providing support for restaurant owners Aky and Mohammad Abolghasem following a fire that destroyed their home two weeks ago.
In a neighborhood of about 5,000 people, many knew of the Abolghasems as the owners of Aky’s Café, a popular mom and pop Mediterranean restaurant, and many describe them as being some of the nicest people in town.
For 17 years, the Abolghasems have given back to their community by supporting local artists and having musicians perform in their restaurant, and have always helped fellow business owners and neighbors. “They have a big community presence,” said Nikki Trivers, a long-time friend of the Abolghasems and fellow Point Richmond restaurant owner. “They are constantly helping with other people and hiring locals and are totally invested in this community.”
The day after the fire happened, Trivers set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $10,000. In the first 28 minutes, they had over $1,000. Currently, the fundraiser has reached over $18,000, with money raised by 194 people in 8 days.
“I just tried to find the best and fastest way to get money and get the things they needed, because they were left with absolutely nothing,” she said.
Around 4 pm on January 16, Mohammad Abolghasem was in a meeting with his landlord in Berkeley when he received a call saying that his house was on fire. He rushed home upon receiving the call, but when he arrived, it was too late.
“Everything was gone,” he said about the 110-year-old Point Richmond home that he has rented for 9 years. “The fire burned very heavily. I couldn’t believe it.”
Many neighbors of the Abolghasems and other residents of the small Point Richmond community were able to see the smoke that day.
“I saw flames that were literally coming out of the roof,” said Amy Ukena, a neighbor and friend of the Abolghasems, who was walking her dog the afternoon that the fire broke out. “There was enormous amounts of smoke coming out of the house.”
Nikki and her husband Nathan Trivers also saw the smoke from their home on the other side of Point Richmond and immediately rushed over when they saw smoke coming from the part of town where their friends lived.
“We joined the rest of the town. There must have been 100 people outside just trying to offer support,” said Nikki Trivers.
About 13 years ago, Mohammad Abolghasem was the first person that Nathan Trivers met in Point Richmond when the Trivers were setting up their restaurant, Up and Under Pub and Grill. Their family ended up being good friends with the Abolghasems and have supported each other tremendously over the years.
The day of the fire, Andrew Butt, an architect who is also the son of Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, helped them find a temporary place to stay. He said, “It’s just a family-type of situation and it’s what I expect anyone to do—it’s what we do in this community.”
Many other members in the community have stepped in. Ukena said people at Brickyard Cove Marina in Point Richmond have offered a storage space to hold any donations, such as furniture and clothing, that the community may have for the family while they look for a home.
In addition, plans about a benefit concert for the Abolghasems are in motion, according to Ukena, a local jazz musician who has performed at Aky’s Café a couple of times in the past. She said, “We’ll be walking with them as long as we can.”
The Abolghasems are still looking for a permanent place to call home for the both of them and their two sons, but have expressed a tremendous amount of gratitude toward the community.
Mohammad Abolghasem describes the past few weeks since the fire as being very intense, but when it comes to describing the supportiveness of the community, he is often at a loss of words and repeats a single phrase over and over again: “What a town we have. Truly, what a town we have.”
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