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Donations exceeded demand after Stuttgart warehouse fire

STUTTGART, Germany — In the weeks following last year’s Stuttgart-area warehouse fire that destroyed the household goods of 121 military families, donations poured in. But the giving exceeded the demand, according to officials at the U.S. Army Garrison in Stuttgart, who will now also make those funds available to other community members requiring assistance.

“We met the need,” said Col. Randall Dolinger, chaplain for the Stuttgart community, of the wide-ranging relief effort that involved churchgoers, spouse clubs and other garrison organizations.

About $42,000 was donated to the relief effort following the Oct. 30 fire. But more than six months later, just $19,000 has been distributed to the victims. There were numerous town hall meetings and mass emails sent to inform victims that emergency assistance was availabe, but there were not enough takers for all the donations, officials said.

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The money, which was collected by both the Stuttgart spouses club and religious services office, was made available in the form of vouchers to those requesting assistance. The vouchers could be used to purchase necessities at facilities such as the commissary and post exchanges. Simply distributing cash would complicate the claims process with insurance companies and reduce what families are eligible to be reimbursed for, according to the Stuttgart Judge Advocate General Office.

The garrison focused on assistance to meet short-term needs.

The fire that tore through the warehouse in Schwieberdingen, a small community about nine miles from Stuttgart, destroyed the household goods of 121 families, although initial reports said 97 families were affected. Families, many of whom have already departed from Stuttgart for new duty stations, continue to file claims for reimbursement with the German moving company that owned the warehouse.

There is a July 30 deadline to file claims, garrison officials said.

In the wake of the fire, there were regular town hall meetings for families, and the garrison set up a special office at its legal center to guide victims through the claims process. So far, $1 million has been awarded, which garrison officials say is just a fraction of what the final payout will be.

Meanwhile, German authorities continue to investigate what caused the fire. Arson has not been ruled out.

“At this time, the investigators cannot say yet if the fire was caused by deliberate intention or just through negligence,” said Daniela Waldenmaier, spokeswoman for Ludwigsburg police. “In such a big case, the investigators want to be very careful.”

Garrison officials say families still in need of support can contact the Army Community Services office on Panzer Kaserne, which can arrange assistance.

“If people still need help, they need to say something,” said Col. Carl Bird, Stuttgart garrison commander.

Stars and Stripes' Marcus Klöckner contributed to this report.

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil

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