CFD responds after a massive fire destroyed Twisted Hippo Brewery, Ultimate Ninjas Gym and an apartment building near the corner of Montrose Avenue and Richmond Street early Feb. 21, 2022 in Albany Park. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

ALBANY PARK — The early Monday fire that tore through an apartment building and multiple businesses in Albany Park left people scrambling to find housing and owners and workers of the impacted companies trying to rebuild.

Multiple fundraisers are underway for the businesses, residents and even a skee-ball league impacted by the devastating extra-alarm fire, which is still under investigation. Here’s how you can help:

Support For Displaced Residents 

The Christ Lutheran Church set up a GoFundMe to support residents of the apartment building displaced by the fire. 

“We hope to make contact with all residents of the building, so that we can support them in this difficult time,” the church wrote on the page. “We ask all Chicagoans to please contribute to help them recover as quickly as possible.” 

The 4335-39 N. Richmond St. apartment that caught fire had 21 apartments, though three were vacant. Residents had to evacuate, and although the city had the building might be saved, all of the residents were displaced.

Red Cross volunteers were on the scene Monday afternoon and are currently assisting ten people from ten apartments with temporary shelter and other accommodations, spokeswoman Holly Baker said.

“Imagine losing everything in a matter of moments — your house, your car, your clothes, everything,” Baker said. “In the middle of the night there were people standing on their sidewalk, in their pajamas, wondering ‘What do I do now?’” 

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33th) tweeted the fundraiser and said Monday her office is “reaching out to our neighbors to provide assistance.”

As of Wednesday morning the GoFundMe has raised more than $9,000. 

A massive fire destroyed Twisted Hippo Brewery, Ultimate Ninjas Gym and an apartment building near the corner of Montrose Avenue and Richmond Street early Feb. 21, 2022 in Albany Park. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Rebuild Twisted Hippo 

One of the businesses decimated by the fire was Twisted Hippo Brewery. It’s three-year-old taproom and the adjoining brewery were destroyed. The building will need to be demolished because of massive damage.

The Chicago area craft beer community immediately jumped into action to raise money to help the workers and the business. Mikerphone Brewing in Elk Grove Village launched a GoFundMe to support Twisted Hippo, and scores of other breweries pitched in.

By Wednesday morning, more than $137,000 was raised from more than 1,600 donors, including customers and fans of the brewery.

“It’s what Chicago breweries do,” said John Carruthers, communications manager at Revolution Brewing, which contributed $1,000. Its owner Josh Deth, also gave $1,000. “It’s one thing to say let’s all be friends and have a beer, it’s another to really step up financially.” 

CFD responds after a massive fire destroyed Twisted Hippo Brewery, Ultimate Ninjas Gym and an apartment building near the corner of Montrose Avenue and Richmond Street early Feb. 21, 2022 in Albany Park. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Support Ultimate Ninjas Staff 

The other business destroyed was Ultimate Ninjas Gym, which sat adjacent to Twisted Hippo.

Melissa Rogers, a coach at Ultimate Ninjas Naperville, set up a GoFundMe to support the sister location in Chicago with business expenses, salaries for managers and trainers and funds for part-time staff not covered by insurance. As of Wednesday morning it has raised over $33,000. 

Professional ninja gyms — featuring obstacle courses from warped walls to rope climbs — took off in the U.S. following the success of the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show, Rogers said. Ultimate Ninjas are “one of the OGs,” and ninja gyms across the country have sent in donations. 

“It’s a unique community, and a very fast growing sport,” Rogers said. “Ninja is about overcoming obstacles. This was an obstacle we never thought we’d have to overcome, but if there is any sport that teaches you about overcoming obstacles, it is ninja.” 

Ultimate Ninjas’ four locations in the Chicagoland area each have elite youth teams that practice together, travel to tournaments and battle for bragging rights in their own competitions. Derrick “Pizza Ninja” Pavoni, who appeared on “American Ninja Warrior” three times and coaches at Ultimate Ninjas Chicago, took his kids to the Glenview location on Monday night to grieve with their fellow ninjas.

“So they could feel what they needed to feel together as a group, if that was talking to one of the coaches, reliving the memories, or just honestly goofing off on the obstacles,” Pavoni said. “For the kids who have been around since the beginning, this is a really big loss. They literally grew up at the gym.” 

Rogers said her daughter, 10 year-old Cecily who goes by her ninja name “Lil Beast,” was moved to support the cause. 

“It was past her bedtime, and she came to my room and was trying to figure out how to put a little fundraiser together on TikTok,” Rogers said. “She did a sweet little post about how ninja is her life and how this happened to her friends, and she wants to be able to help.”

Vintage “Beer Ball” machines — the last to ever be manufactured — were destroyed in Monday’s fire. Credit: Courtesy of Mike Fraser

Help Skee League Get New Skee-Ball Machines 

For over 10 years, Mike Fraser supported himself by running competitive skee-ball leagues at bars across Chicago. Last summer he partnered with Twisted Hippo to host a league and lugged over three of his vintage “Beer Ball” machines, an offshoot of Skee-Ball with unique wooden finishes.

On Monday morning, he rushed to the scene of the fire with his 35-week pregnant wife, made a beeline past caution tape, firefighters and news reporters to the site of the Beer Ball machines. They were ash and rumble. 

“I was in a trance,” Fraser said. “Skee-Ball is my livelihood and my passion.” 

Fraser’s league at Twisted Hippo is currently in the middle of its season with 18 teams and 65 rollers. The last two Beer Ball machines ever manufactured were lost in the fire. If he can track down others, they cost about $6,900 each. 

The top-scoring player in the Twisted Hippo league, James “The Shark” Schwark, set up a GoFundMe to help Fraser replace the machines. As of Wednesday morning it has raised over $17,000. Other leagues across the country rolled in donations. 

Fraser called the support “bananas” and thinks Schwark “just really wants to win the league.” 

“Everyone is joining together in unification over Skee-Ball. Which is just really cool,” Fraser said. “I’ve cried more in the past couple days than I care to admit, and every now and then you see the funds rolling in, you see that so many people care enough to help support my dream.”

The Twisted Hippo league will not miss a beat and plans to resume play at Glascott’s Saloon, 2158 N. Halsted St, at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Fraser said the league “hasn’t lost a single roller.” 

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