After the June 1st Tornado that hit my Community of Southbridge, I and several members of my Congregation decided that we would open the Church as a regional donation point. Donations for tornado victims started to arrive and we soon knew that the Church Hall would not be large enough to contain all of the donations.
I made contact with the United Way in Southbridge who arraigned for a warehouse space generously donated by United Lens and the operation was moved from the Church Hall to the United Lens warehouse on Worcester Street in Southbridge. Coordination was made with the distribution centers in both Brimfield and Monson and supplies were delivered to those communities as well as a similar group in Sturbridge.
Prior to the June 6th meeting of the Southbridge Town Council, then Chairman Steven Lazo asked me if I would be willing to be appointed by him to be volunteer coordinator for the Town of Southbridge. I agreed and was appointed by Mr. Lazo to that position. It was my understanding that the warehouse operation was still under the direction of me as Pastor of the St. Michael’s Church and as a member of the disaster response network of the International Orthodox Christian Charities. At no point was it my understanding that the Town had taken responsibility over the warehouse operation.
As a Non-Governmental organization involved in disaster relief, coordination is made with local officials but the operation is managed by the organization and not by the Government. The United Way and the local Chamber of Commerce sent word out through their membership to solicit donations. The Chamber of Commerce took over the volunteer coordination as they were asked to do this by the Office of Governor.
After two weeks of distribution the number of people coming to the site had dwindled and the decision was made to stop operations. A decision was going to have to be made as to what was to be done with the items that remain. I made contact with the distribution centers in both Brimfield and Monson to discover that they had so many donations they could not accept much of what we had. The Hygiene kits that we received from Church World Service were sent to Springfield at the request of Church World Service and were distributed through the Salvation Army in Springfield.
With the need in the area seemingly diminished I was uncertain what to do with the items that remained. Contact was made with the local food pantries in Southbridge as well as the senior center in Charlton. I was informed that their available supplies was diminished as they were also making items available not only to Tornado victims but to the residents that had lost power due to the storm that hit Southbridge the following week. The Committee made the decision to move the items from the warehouse to the food pantries. We were not sure what else to do with the items and I did not want them sitting in the warehouse not being used.
The bulk of the items were transferred to the Southbridge Food Share pantry at Catholic Charities as well as to the food pantry at St. Mary’s Church. Some items were sent to the senior center in Charlton for their food distribution program and some items did go to the Food Share Pantry in Webster. Approximately 100 gallons of water was given to the Relay for Life relay to aid in their effort.
The distribution of food was not done to deny affected residents of needed aid. The decision was made due to the fact that the numbers had dwindled and it appeared that the aid was no longer needed. With both Brimfield and Monson unable to accept any other donations I made the decision to transfer the items to the food pantries in the area to aid people.
There was never any attempt on my part to mislead people who had generously donated items to those in need. It was my intent to make sure all of the items donated went to people in need in the Greater Southbridge area. The decision was made in haste and in retrospect I realize that better coordination could have been made with all involved. It was never my intent to hurt anyone but only to help those in need the best way I know how.