12/27/2013 08:27 EST | Updated 02/26/2014 05:59 EST

Saint-Lambert residents pull together for fire victims

Families left homeless by a fire that destroyed a 45-unit apartment building in Saint-Lambert on Monday are finding some comfort in the kindness of strangers.

A donation centre established after the blaze by the City of Saint-Lambert and local volunteers took in three tractor-trailer loads of furniture, clothing, toys, appliances and electronics – including three dozen television sets – over the course of the week.

Donations continued to pour in on Friday, a day after the donation centre was supposed to close.

“We have families that are refugees and they have no money,” says Jeannine Mongeau, a volunteer who helped organize the donation drive.

“Almost none of them had insurance.”

Many affected by the fire were new immigrants to Canada. Oscar Cuellar, his wife and their two young children – a four-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter – came to Montreal from Colombia last August with their luggage and little else.

“I brought a lot of dreams in my five suitcases and a lot of our hopes and dreams were lost in the fire that day,” he told CBC News.

“My son keeps asking when we can go home again.”

Cuellar says the kindness that he has experienced from Saint-Lambert’s citizens has helped ease an otherwise devastating situation.

“I’m really happy that I’m surrounded with people who have a huge heart and generosity,” he says.

This weekend Cuellar and many of the 38 families left homeless by the blaze will begin their search for new lodgings. 

The City of Saint-Lambert is assisting them in the process with the hopes their children will have new homes for their first day back to school on January 6.