Two months after the largest fire in recent Winona history destroyed the city's Islamic center and damaged several other historic downtown buildings, members of the mosque are looking for a new place to call home.
The Sept. 13 fire reduced the Islamic Center of Winona to a pile of rubble. Although insurance paid about $155,000, most of that money went to clean up the debris, said the center's president, Mohamed Elhindi.
Mosque leaders are considering whether to rebuild at the downtown location, which would cost an estimated $600,000. But they also have their eye on an abandoned school district building just outside the city's downtown. It would cost the center about $380,000 to buy that building and renovate it, Elhindi said.
"We're really looking for a place that's walking distance from the center of Winona because a lot of our members, they walk," he said. "So that's why we, geographically, are trying to find something that's within walking distance from the center of town."
That's especially important, Elhindi said, because most of the center's 300 members are college students.
A few of them lived in an apartment above the 20-year-old Islamic Center and were displaced after the fire. By the time firefighters arrived, the building had been on fire for several hours and it was too late to save the building. The center was a total loss.
"Looking at your house going down in flames, that's just an indescribable feeling to be honest with you," Elhindi said.
Since the fire, he said, support has poured from around the city.
Members of the mosque have met at various churches and at St. Mary's University for Friday prayers.
People in Minnesota and Wisconsin have helped raise money for the new center. Elhindi said so far the center has collected about $45,000 in donations.
"It's an unbelievable support -- from every community member in Winona, from Twin Cities area, from La Crosse area, from Rochester area," he said. "I mean, I can't even name them all. And I think that's what's kept us going, the support we've received from people."
Mosque leaders, along with members of various Twin Cities Muslim organizations, will hold a fundraising dinner and lecture this weekend in New Brighton to help raise money for the Winona mosque.
Elhindi said he hopes they'll find a new home by June, for the holy month of Ramadan.