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By John Grossi 

Photo by Monique Kuhlman

‘Twas three days till Christmas when all through the house… A fire. This is not how it’s supposed to go. Christmas is supposed to be about miracles…

On December 21st, 2023, Executive Director Jeff Levine and Chaplain Torie Russell gathered with the residents of Lydia House to pray over, bless, and celebrate their newly renovated playroom. With new cabinets, new paint, new furniture, new lighting, it was a joyous moment. Especially seeing it filled with toys for Christmas.


On December 22nd, 2023, the Lydia House, Long Beach Rescue Mission’s home for women and children, was set on fire.


It was just past 10pm when Marissa, who lives upstairs, heard a fellow resident shout, “FIRE! FIRE!” Lala, another resident, heard it upstairs too. They both saw smoke and soon heard the alarm. They sprang into action, whisked their kids to safety and began waking up the others. It all happened in the blink of an eye. The alarm went off, the house was in flames, the firetrucks showed up, and the women and children stood outside looking up at their beloved shelter.

Thankfully everyone got out of the house before the flames raged. But, they were homeless again. Soon Chaplain Jeff and Pastor Russell showed up. They talked to the fire department and the police department. Apparently, their Christmas tree had caught fire from a faulty light.

The ladies braced themselves for Christmas without a home. Having no place to go was not a new feeling for any of them but it was one they thought was in their past. But they weren’t homeless anymore, because they were residents of the Long Beach Rescue Mission.

“That thought never even crossed my mind,” said Jeff Levine, reflecting on the residents’ notion that they might be put back on the street.

Jeff and Pastor Russell arranged for mattresses and blankets to be brought into a classroom at the men’s shelter across the street. The women and children stayed there and enjoyed an impromptu pizza party while they contemplated the fact that they had almost died.

“I went up to the lady [who first screamed fire] and told her she was a hero,” said Marissa.

Marissa had spent the last month decorating the Lydia House for Christmas.

“I love Christmas and I was happy to do that.” she said, “I wanted to bring back Christmas spirit for many of the ladies who were feeling down. Being in a shelter just isn’t the same, especially during Christmas.”

Christmas isn’t just Christmas for Marissa. It is also her son’s birthday. She was determined to make the day special. A newer resident mentioned that she used to have a string of cranberries and popcorn on her tree as a child. Marissa went out and purchased cranberries and popcorn with her own money just to make that resident feel at home.

On Christmas morning, the kids were still able to open gifts and Marissa celebrated her son’s birthday party in the parking lot instead of the living room. The lady who had first warned everyone about the fire, the hero of that night, the same one who had requested cranberries and popcorn for the Christmas tree, was having the time of her life. The next day, video footage would reveal that it was she who lit the Christmas tree on fire.

She started the fire that destroyed the entire first floor and almost killed dozens of residents. On purpose. And then she laughed along with the victims for days, believing she would never be discovered.

Lala said that as soon as Chaplain Jeff and Pastor Russell found out what happened, they called a meeting with all of the residents to tell them the truth about the arson. The woman who committed arson had already been taken away. The residents were left confused and angry.

“She knew how many women and children were upstairs,” said Lala. “I just can’t stop thinking about how many lives could have been lost if the walls had failed before we all got out.”

Betrayed by one of their own, sleeping in a shared classroom each night, answering tough questions from their children… Marissa, Lala, and their fellow Lydia House residents certainly didn’t end 2023 the way they had imagined.

Just about a week later is when Jeff Levine called me and said, “We have to write a story about all the miracles God has given to the Lydia House.”


Every room in the Lydia House had fire damage except one. The brand-new playroom, prayed over and blessed the day before the fire, was completely untouched. It stands 10 feet away from the Christmas tree that was lit. The fire stopped at its door, turned around, and went elsewhere.

The week after the fire, Jeff knew he needed to relocate 36 residents for a couple of weeks while remediation took place on the second floor. He estimated it would cost $50,000 to house and provide food for these individuals and families.

“I reached out to Steve Bryson and the Never Forgotten Foundation who didn't hesitate but brought a check for $20,000 the next day,” said Jeff. “On Wednesday, I notified the residents we would be moving them into a hotel (I hadn't reached out to any yet). One of the mothers caught me after with tears in her eyes, in disbelief that we weren't going to just ask them to find somewhere else to go, but that we would take care of them.”

The miracles continued.

“Five minutes later I talked with a deacon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Long Beach who committed $30,000 from his congregation to this effort. At the same time, I got an email from the Hotel Manager at the Westin where we host our Leadership Prayer Breakfast. He was reaching out to discuss a new program where their kitchen staff would bake bread and donate it to the mission. I thought to myself, ‘Of course, you're reaching out about bread. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and provided for over 5,000 people.’ God was telling us He was going to provide!”

Jeff told the Westin Manager about the Lydia House situation, and he was more than ready to help. He discounted rooms by more than half allowing residents to stay during the length of the renovations.

“In just 12 hours, God provided $50,000 and 11 rooms at one of the nicest hotels in the city of Long Beach. The impact on our residents has been profound as they have shared what this experience has meant to them, and how they have felt genuinely loved, cared for, and supported,” said Jeff.

Meanwhile, one of the oldest and most run-down buildings at the Long Beach Rescue Mission has now gotten the facelift it needed. The Lydia House has been renovated to be safer, look better, and provide more services.

The fire didn’t destroy the Lydia House, it sparked growth.

Lala comes to tears just thinking about the way the community around the Rescue Mission responded to the fire.

“It’s like… if you’ve ever had doubts about America… this tragedy has proven that people here still have a heart. People really care. Nowadays, all you hear is negative news. You hear that the hearts are hardened and that’s just not the case,” raved Lala.

“All the love, the caring, the compassion, the blankets, the socks and the toys to the kids… it’s been amazing! The mission has a “Dinner On Me” campaign where groups, organizations, or individuals can come into the mission and sponsor the meal for the day. It’s just good to know that people still care. There’s no reporters or cameras, it’s just genuine and for me, I just love that so much.”

“My son said, ‘Mom, I know this is temporary, but someday we are going to come back here and be like the donors,’” said Marissa.

“We have a lot to be grateful for and one day we are going to have the opportunity to help and give back what has been so generously received here.”


The mission provides over 700 meals a day and cannot provide these services without the partnership of our community. There are opportunities to serve every day and we invite you to join us in meeting the needs of these precious souls. 

To learn more about how you can help, please contact Jeff Levine at (562) 277-4697

1430 Pacific Ave,  90813



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