Dorris Helping Hand destroyed in fire, leaving only memories for those it served

An early morning fire destroyed the building at 1501 Wynstanley in East St. Louis, leaving only its smoldering contents and memories of all the good that had been done there.

The call went to the East St. Louis Fire Department at 2:37 a.m Tuesday, reporting a large fire at the two-story brick structure. Assistant Fire Chief George McClellan said three fire companies responded. It was the building that once housed Dorris Helping Hand Shelter for Homeless men. It was also an outreach agency that provided food, clothes, shoes, and help with utility bills. The Rev. Dorris Davis ran the shelter. He was well liked by residents in East st. Louis and its’ surrounding communities.

“When we arrived on scene, the vacant building was fully engulfed. There was too much stuff ... debris inside for us to make entry,” McClellan said. “We couldn’t control it. It went through the roof. We called a ladder truck and drowned it.”

It took fire fighters five hours to get the fire out, McClellan said.

Smoke could still be seen coming from the building mid-morning. Firefighters still had not entered the building due to the amount of stuff inside.

McClellan did not know where the fire started. There were no injuries or damage to any of the surrounding properties.

The fire was so big, the leaping flames spread to branches on the tall, overgrown trees on the property. Branches extended from the tree had burned marks on them.

Tall grass and weeds surrounded the brick structure, making the front door barely visible.

Dorris Davis, namesake of the Helping Hand shelter, died at the age of 67 in August 2012.

He said at one time in his life he was the biggest drunk in East. St. Louis and was homeless He recovered from his alcohol addiction and later opened the Helping Hands shelter for homeless men and food pantry.

Davis served the East st. Louis community for over 30 years, seeking donations of food, clothes, toys, shoes, money. He helped people pay their utility bills, in addition to providing food and clothing. Davis told the BND in a profile article that “just because someone is down on their luck, doesn’t mean they have to be treated like they are not human.”

His mission was to help as many poor people and homeless men as possible.

Terry Miller said he woke up about 6 a.m. , at the tail end of the fire fighters’ battle with the fire.

“They were still working. I saw a lot of smoke coming from the building,” Miller said.

Miller sat outside the burned-out building Tuesday morning recalling the memories he had of the Helping Hands shelter. He recalled its closing upon Davis’ death and running there as a child to get a Christmas present.

“He was a good man. He gave out Christmas gifts and, whatever we got, helped. It’s kind of sad that it’s fallen to this,” Miller said.