Update re: Tropical Storm Irene and the Spruces

I met this morning with the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Clergy group to discuss our continuing efforts to support those who were displaced by Hurricane Irene last week, and I want to fill you in on the situation and on what you can do to help.

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Clergy group has hired Robin Lenz to coordinate local disaster relief and to help our aid (clothing, food, money, housing) reach those who are dispossessed. Robin, who is working out of the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, can be reached via phone at 458-4273, and via email at robinlenz@rocketmail.com; if you want to donate gift cards (Stop n’Shop, Walmart, Rite Aid) or if you want to volunteer your time to help Spruces residents, she’s the person to contact.

The most dire need is housing. The 300+ residents at the Spruces are still stuck paying their utilities, rent, and other expenses at the trailer park, even though no one can get back in to their trailers and many of the trailers have been condemned. Current estimates from FEMA are that 70% of the residents there will not be able to return for some time — perhaps ever. Right now the interfaith clergy group is putting people up at several area motels. Hopefully FEMA checks will start arriving soon for emergency housing, directly into the checking account of each of the displaced folks. Meanwhile, we’re exploring the longer-term questions of housing for the refugees. It will likely be necessary to house these folks for the winter and we’re not yet sure where or how that will happen.

Food is also needed. The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Clergy group is planning to begin offering a weekly community meal (on Sunday evenings) to the Spruces community so that they may be sustained both by the food and by the togetherness. If you would like to be part of these efforts, the person to reach out to is Peter Daniels at First Baptist Church – peterdaniels@mac.com. (For now, the dinners will be at First Baptist Church on Thomas Street in Williamstown, with seatings at 5 and at 6pm.)

I’ve been tasked with thinking about the big-picture issues: affordable housing for seniors in our community, what is the town already doing and what’s not yet being done, what else might be the longterm needs of these residents (donated legal time to help them navigate their situation? what else?) If any of you would like to help me think through these questions, please let me know.

If you want your tzedakah to take the form of a monetary donation, I recommend sending it to one of the following two places:

Community Fund for the Spruces
Williamstown Savings Bank
795 Main Street, Williamstown MA 01267

Spruces Tenants Association
memo: disaster relief
c/o South Adams Savings Bank
273 Main St., Williamstown MA 01267

The Days of Awe are fast approaching. This is the season of teshuvah, of re/turning to God, of doing what we can to ensure that our lives are aligned with holiness. A lot of people in our community still need our help. May we each find blessing in helping as much as, and however, we are able.

Take care, and l’shanah tovah,

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