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London Fire: Huge Community Response Brings Flood of Donations

LONDON — As survivors and distraught relatives comforted each other in the shadow of the London high-rise fire, a stream of donated supplies was delivered to the diverse and densely-packed neighborhood.

At mosques, churches and on sidewalks, well-wishers and local store owners added to ever-expanding piles of water bottles, toiletries, snacks, and clothes.

Image: Volunteers help with food deliveries after the Grenfell Tower fire in London
Local store owners and volunteers sorting donations on Thursday. PAUL HACKETT / Reuters

Masks were handed out to protect against the falling ash from the deadly blaze at Grenfell Tower, which killed at least 17 people and left many more missing.

Outside the Al Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, residents and volunteers brought bags of blankets, diapers, water and more.

“Brothers, form a train,” shouted Ibrahim Bangali, who was organizing the many volunteers taking bags off people dropping by on foot and waiting to help unload the cars. “Learn each other’s names, you’re not robots.”

Islamic Relief, a non-profit that works closely with the local community, helped to coordinate efforts at the center.

Image: Muslim volunteers brought supplies to local churches in the aftermath of the London tower fire
Muslim volunteers brought supplies to local churches. Jack Taylor / Getty Images

“We’ve committed a [$12,500] donation so far but I think that will rise as we know what the needs are,” said Zia Salik, national fundraising manager for Islamic Relief UK. “There’s a real sense of the community wanting to respond.”

Donations quickly filled two rooms set aside in the center on Wednesday. On one side, women sorted through hundreds of bags of clothing, while on the other young men brought in packs of bottled water and groceries.

What started out as one plastic folding table filled with food quickly grew to half a dozen, as local workers and residents arrived with pastries, sandwiches, drinks, cribs and high chairs.

Related: Baby Dropped, Caught as High Rise Burns

In the center's kitchen, women packed up hot food donated by a local restaurant to be sent on to fire victims staying at local churches.

Many of Grenfell Tower’s residents were regular attendees at the mosque, which hosts iftar — the fast-breaking nightly meal during Ramadan — for around 300 people.

When the inferno took hold early Wednesday, many local Muslims were either coming back from iftar or preparing for suhoor — their last meal before dawn — and ran toward the fire to see how they could help.

Reem Abdul, 22, saw friends posting about the fire on Snapchat at about 1:30 a.m. local time (8:30 a.m. ET) She headed down to a local church with a friend to distribute water to victims. Later, Abdul went home and gathered more supplies to donate including shampoo, toiletries, baby milk and her baby nephew's old clothing.

At the Rugby Portobello Trust community center, relatives gathered for news about family and friends missing in the fire-ravaged tower while more volunteers distributed sandwiches and potato chips from nearby supermarkets.

Image: A sign pleading for help after the London high-rise tower fire
The community responded generously in response to pleas for help. Carl Court / Getty Images

“This is a real close area. Everyone knows everyone,” said Hannah Wiggins, 19, who lives nearby. “We all stick together. As soon as I heard we came down to donate things — [diapers], tinned food, clothing. Everyone is just hanging out here because if they tell us someone needs something then we will run to get it for them."

Later Wednesday, almost 24 hours after the fire, volunteers prepared a huge iftar in the street for displaced residents and emergency workers.

Pop singer Adele also visited the scene of the blaze.

Underneath the subway tracks that run parallel to the tower, the Garden Bar opened its doors for firefighters and police, providing water and food.

London High-Rise Fire: Why Residents Decided to 'Stay Put' 0:53

Alan Everett, the vicar of the local Parish of St. Clement and St. James, said his church had hosted dozens of survivors and evacuated residents.

"We have really been overwhelmed by the number of people that have come to help and show kindness," he said. "We are trying to offer them some comfort as best we can."

Along ash-covered sidewalks near the Latymer Christian Centre, tables were piled high with more food and clothing.