An article in one of the nation's largest newspapers exploring the aftermath of an alleged arson at a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks has generated some national goodwill.
Cynthia Shabb, executive director of the Global Friends Coalition, said Thursday she had received roughly six calls from people across the country since the Washington Post wrote about a fire police say was set intentionally last month at the Juba Coffee House and Restaurant on South Washington Street. That fire came days after the business was graffitied with what appeared to be Nazi symbols and the words "go home," but investigators have not said if the two incidents are connected.
"This day has been incredible," Shabb said Thursday. "I'm hearing from people from Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia. It is just amazing."
Shabb said the calls have brought donations and more signatures on a letter in support of Juba on Global Friends' website. She has also heard from people doing advocacy work.
The Post's article, which was published Tuesday, discussed sentiment toward Muslims and Somalis after recent terrorist attacks as well as the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Bud Hensgen said he donated $250 to the business via a GoFundMe page after he read Robert Samuels' article, adding he wants the ownership "to know we support them and welcome them in our country."
Another man, Jeff Musich, donated $50 and said he hoped to "have the opportunity to stop in for a coffee on a cross-country trip I am planning," according to the GoFundMe page.
As of Saturday afternoon, online donations reached $24,121 from 562 people. Colleen Berry, a former UND professor who launched the GoFundMe page, said Saturday she'll probably leave the page up until donations stop coming in.
Ilhaam Hassam, a member of the family that owns Juba, said Saturday they've been encouraged by the support. She said they still plan to rebuild the business, but it will take some time.
"They just want to be good neighbors ... they feel support," Shabb said. "It's just hard to not be positive after you visit with them."
East Grand Forks resident Matthew William Gust, 25, was charged last month with Class B felony arson. A preliminary hearing and/or arraignment has been scheduled for Jan. 19.