Big Mama hopes to reopen her doors soon after fire destroys charity headquarters

Team of Life still in need of help 1 year after fire

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was one year ago Wednesday that South Florida's "Big Mama" nearly lost her charity headquarters and home to a devastating fire.

The building at 2136 NW Eighth St. in Fort Lauderdale is a place she uses to serve others, especially the kitchen, where she spent so much time whipping up meals for those in need.

Essie "Big Mama" Reed's plan is to reopen the doors of Team of Life 60 days from now, but there is still extensive damage and Reed needs all the help she can get from the community.

"My heart dropped all the way down to the floor. Why this is happening?" Reed said about the fire. 

Reed hasn't stepped foot inside the building since the fire.

"We need you all. I need everybody we serve from Florida City to West Palm Beach," she said.  

Reed has given her heart to South Florida for more than three decades. 

From serving food during Hurricane Katrina to annual holiday meals, Reed built Team of Life as a way of helping families during their toughest times. 

Authorities said the fire raced through the house from the kitchen, even causing smoke damage to the house next door where Reed lives. 

"All the kids she's helped out of this kitchen and educational center. So there's kids that have suffered because she isn't able to do what she needs to do," Jessica Easterling said. 

Since then, several people have volunteered their time, including Easterling, of Paterson Project Management.

"What we really need here that we're lacking is somebody to do the interior trim work, interior doors, baseboard -- that sort of thing -- painting," Easterling said. "One of the big things she needs to really serve the community the way that she wants to is refrigeration." 

Despite her setback, the woman who has fed thousands of people relentlessly is ready to do it again.

"I have the holiday season coming up. What am I going to do?" Reed said. "Well, I'm not going to stop, because I'm gonna serve my people. I'm gonna get the turkeys so the community remembers (it's) turkey time for Big Mama."

Those interested in helping Reed recover from the fire can do so through the Team of Life's Facebook page