Courtesy of Marcus Samuelsson; East Harlem building collapse, Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor New York/Getty Images

Some residents and business owners in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood are still struggling to recover in the aftermath of a gas explosion that left eight people dead and flattened two 5-story apartment buildings about two weeks ago.

At least 100 people were left homeless after the morning blast on Wed., March 12. And most are still receiving temporary shelter at neighboring churches and the Salvation Army, where volunteers are providing them with food, as well as supplies like blankets and pillows, ABC News reports. Business owners are pleading for assistance because they need to reopen in order to pay bills and feed their families, the Daily News reports.


That’s where acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson, who is co-owner of Red Rooster Harlem and a resident of the community, steps in. “I was at my restaurant about 10 blocks away when I heard it and felt a big shake,” he recalled. “Like most people who live in urban areas, I didn’t really respond because there is always something going on. I didn’t know immediately that something of this magnitude went down. When I walked over later and witnessed the devastation, I knew I had to do something.”

He told The Root that he knew immediately that he wanted to help. He was worried that Harlem would be overshadowed in the news by other tragedies that occurred around the same time, including missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. But soon his worry turned into action as he joined forces with the Red Cross, community leaders, business owners and other chefs to plan a benefit for East Harlem’s victims.

He developed Harlem Helps, a benefit that will take place Wed., April 2, at 8 p.m. EDT, with a VIP cocktail hour at 7 p.m., at Ginny’s Supper Club, underneath his restaurant. Donations will help people affected by the explosion at Park Avenue and East 116th Street, with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross Greater New York: East Harlem Collapse Relief fund. Tickets are $175 for general admission and $350 for VIP Hour at Ticket Fly.


Indeed, the celebrated chef, who received a three-star rating in 1995 from the New York Times while executive chef of Aquavit, has a sizable virtual Rolodex of friends and colleagues to call on for assistance. Three of his industry friends jumped at the chance to support the cause, including Aaron Sanchez, one of the nation’s top Latin chefs, who has appeared on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America; and Jonathan Waxman, chef and owner of Barbuto in the West Village, who will serve food from his restaurant, alongside signature items from Red Rooster.

Amanda Freitag, a New York chef and frequent guest on the Food Network, will lead the live auction, which will take place with four New York City-focused packages, each to include sought-after hotel stays, dining experiences and shopping excursions. And mixologist Karl Franz, from Harlem’s Orange Street, will serve cocktails, and local Harlem ice cream parlor Luca & Bosco will serve scoops. 

Samuelsson said that the blast site is about four blocks away from his home—just a five-minute walk. “It’s directly in my community, and it’s something that could have happened to any one of us,” he said. “I always feel that when a tragedy happens, it’s important for the community to come together. Harlem has always been a community that picks up together. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Lynette Holloway is a contributing editor at The Root. The Chicago-based writer is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.