Gray Area to Distribute Nearly $850,000 to Victims of the Ghost Ship Fire

The burnt exterior of a warehouse in which a fire claimed the lives of at least 36 people is seen on December 4, 2016 in Oakland, California. The fire took place during a musical event late Friday night.  (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The Gray Area Foundation announced Wednesday that it will begin distributing $848,344 to those affected by the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire back in December.

Gray Area, an San Francisco-based non-profit whose mission "is to apply art and technology to create positive social impact," received the most donations -- more than $890,000 from almost 12,000 online contributors -- following the Dec. 2 fire that killed 36 people.

The announcement came one day after the East Bay Express ran a story about the group's fundraising efforts following the fire, noting that Gray Area had not yet distributed any of the money. Josette Melchor, Gray Area's executive director and founder, said the announcement had already been in the works and was not spurred by the article.

"We've been working day and night on this whole thing and there was a deadline for this print article, so it didn't include our press release," Melchor said.

Through an online submission form, the organization received more than 400 requests for aid. After vetting those applications, Gray Area has so far approved 136 qualified recipients.

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The funds will be split into three categories: relief, recovery and resiliency. The relief funds will go to help victims injured or displaced by the fire, and to families of those who died. The recovery funds will go to those who suffered financial hardships in relation to the fire, and the resiliency funds are for programs designed to create "long-term impact and community renewal."

Melchor said much of the delay stems from the organization's need to verify information collected from the applicants, which it did with help from the Red Cross. Melchor says that the nearly 300 applicants that weren't approved for funds will get a second chance, as Gray Area will provide potential recipients with more details on what the funds may be used for.

"What we did was read all the stories that came in with the applications and used them to determine the criteria," Melchor said. "We got over 400 inquiries and it helped us understand who we needed to serve."

Melchor says there will be two more rounds of grant allocations, as Gray Area is still receiving donations.

"It's a long-term commitment to this initiative," Melchor said. "I think that's why people understand our leadership in this -- it's because we are so deeply connected to it. Gray Area started as a live-work space when I was 19, and I'm really passionate about saving art spaces."

Though the foundation's efforts have been successful -- Gray Area raised almost $100,000 more than the Oakland Athletics Community Fund, which also received support from the A's, the Oakland Raiders and the Golden State Warriors -- the work has been extremely difficult, Melchor says. Members of the Gray Area Fund found the work emotionally exhausting, especially under intense media scrutiny.

"This has been the hardest time I've had in my life," Melchor said.

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To learn more about the Gray Area's grants, read the press release.

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