Diocesan response aids in Merrimack Valley disaster relief

The bishops' call for congregations to collect or designate offerings toward a diocesan Merrimack Valley disaster relief response has been met with a generous outpouring of $26,018 to date.

Esperanza Academy family dinner Courtesy photo Family dinner at Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, an occasion for community and hope amidst uncertainty after the natural gas disaster.

The three Episcopal churches and one Episcopal school in communities affected by last month's natural gas disaster--Christ Church in Andover, St. Paul's Church in North Andover and Grace Church and Esperanza Academy in Lawrence--are working with diocesan disaster response personnel to determine the best use of the funds as ongoing recovery needs are made known. These include help in meeting expenses for providing meals and temporary housing for those displaced from their homes, vouchers or gift certificates for groceries and transportation, costs associated with temporary relocation of church programs or worship services, and the provision of other support services to those affected by the crisis.

In addition, a grant of $12,500 from the Boston Episcopal Charitable Society has enabled Grace Church in Lawrence to assist some of its community members with their immediate needs.

Columbia Gas is in the process of replacing the natural gas mains in the three communities where over-pressurized gas lines caused explosions and fires on Sept. 13.  Columbia's reported target date for completing the rebuild is Nov. 19, requiring the company to provide temporary housing for the thousands whose homes were damaged or who are still without heat.

Grace Church in Lawrence hosted a meeting with city and state representatives on Oct. 12, giving clergy and residents a chance to speak out about their recovery challenges.  Grace Church hosted a subsequent gathering on Oct. 15 with Columbia Gas president and CEO Stephen Bryant, at which a group of local clergy requested energy-efficient appliances for the estimated 10,000 households in need of new equipment and asked that Spanish-language translators accompany household assessment teams. The group also raised the need for professional trauma response resources. A follow-up meeting is being scheduled for a progress report on the requested action items.

--Tracy J. Sukraw