Springfield Bishop Keeps Disaster Relief on the Radar

A recent article in the Berkshire Eagle covered remarks given by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell about the continuing need to support the victims of Hurricane Irene.

McDonnell spoke at St. Joseph’s Parish Center on North Street where he acknowledged the difficulties for many families in Western Massachusetts in 2012 while praising the generosity and response of the community as a whole.

“The needs seem to be growing instead of declining,” said McDonnell.

Despite the demands, he said donors rose to the challenge and McDonnell called it the “miracle of the year that was so terrible otherwise.”

Specifically mentioned was the work of Higher Ground; Robin Lenz was present to talk about the effect donations from Catholic Charities have had on her efforts.

Representatives from Williamstown groups who assisted Irene victims were also on hand, saying the donations were beneficial to their efforts and came at a time when people were running out of options.

A total of 225 homes in a Williamstown mobile home park had to be abandoned when Irene hit last August, according to Robin Lenz of Higher Ground, a group formed in the wake of the storm. To date, only 66 homes have been cleared for occupancy and 153 will never be occupied again.

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Upcoming: The Misanthrope to Benefit Spruces

The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s reading of The Misanthrope will raise funds for Higher Ground’s work. The event will take place at The Clark on February 27 at 7pm. This article from Berkshire On Stage is a great overview of The Misanthrope and this particular reading.  As Larry Murray writes there:

The Williamstown Theatre Festival suffered its own losses as the Hoosic River flooded their prop and scenery storage facility causing severe damage. The residents of the Spruces and the staff of the Festival found they shared common ground. “Thanks to our supporters we have made great progress in recovering from that disaster,” said Jenny Gersten, WTF’s artistic director yesterday. “Jim Kolesar (VP of Public Affairs for Williams College) and I have talked about this a lot, and how Higher Ground was formed to provide assistance to the larger community, so when we began to plan our annual February play reading, it was a no-brainer as to who would be the beneficiary. It may have been serendipitous, but Higher Ground is now a major part of the community. They need ongoing support.”

Upcoming: Mardi Gras Pancake Dinner

Tuesday, February 21 we celebrate MARDI GRAS or Fat Tuesday, the traditional day for one last culinary fling before Lent, which begins the following day. This by-donation dinner is a benefit for Higher Ground and is open to the whole community. Current and former residents of The Spruces eat free! Come between 5-6:30 pm to listen to the Taylor Halperin Jazz Trio and enjoy Jeannie Ranney’s pancakes – blueberry, cranberry, apple, and chocolate chip – with flavored syrups, baked apples, sausage and beverages. There will also be cereal available for people silly enough not to like pancakes! To make a reservation or if you’d like to help in some way, call 413-458-4273 or e-mail office@firstchurchwilliamstown.org.

Download the Fat Tuesday Poster to distribute!

Rev. Don Remick, co-chair of the Disaster Resource Team of the MA Conference for the United Church of Christ, mentioned Higher Ground in a recent article. “Disaster Recovery: The Unprecedented Year Continues” discussed the difficulties of sustained disaster recovery, reminding us that “Disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. And it will still be a long time before folks discover a new normal: a new way of stable living.”

Rev. Remick mentions Higher Ground as an example of the faith-based effort to find this “new normal,” and writes:

One example of [faith-based initiatives] is in Williamstown. Following the flooding rains of Hurricane Irene, one whole mobile home park was left uninhabitable. Over 200 families were displaced. Only half of them have been allowed back. The rest will not be. The church formed a Long Term Recovery Group consisting of local leaders, federal and state guidance and non profit assistance. Led by our Rev. Carrie Bail, this group is ensuring that the most vulnerable of populations is not left unseen as life moves on for everyone else.

Words from Peter Fohlin, Town Manager

Today, Town Manager Peter Fohlin posted the following to the Williamstown website.

The earthquake analogy applies to The Spruces. Rescue workers continue to search days after any hope of finding an earthquake survivor has been lost. And so it has been at The Spruces for five months. We have inched our way up from 60 to 63 legally occupied “Green” trailers and 3 more “Yellow” trailers with realistic prospects of recovery for a total of only 66 of 225 homes. Friday trailer number 67 appeared out of nowhere. The second home owners had been working quietly and diligently under the radar to reclaim their trailer. Thursday they called for their final gas inspection and passed. While this is not a primary residence, the good fortune of one of our seasonal survivors is to be celebrated. Yet this good fortune does not diminish the loss for our neighbors who were not so lucky.

It’s great to hear some good news for our neighbors as we continue to move forward as an organization.