NEAC assists those affect by 2018 gas explosion

February 12, 2019

Pictured above: Milagro Grullón (left), secretary of the Board of AMEDAL and Pastor of Community Christian Fellowship-Lawrence, and Barbara Burnside, Conference Disaster Response & Mission Coordinator.

From Barbara Burnside, Conference Disaster Response & Mission Coordinator: 
The gas explosions that occurred in the late afternoon of Sept. 13, 2018 caused a series of fires that killed one and damaged or destroyed more than 130 buildings in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, MA. 
The explosions were caused by excessive pressure in natural gas lines owned by Columbia Gas, and forced residents out of more 8,600 homes. Those who were later determined to be “outside the affected area” were left without shelter for days while officials worked to inspect gas lines and ensure their safety.
More than 600 businesses were affected, including restaurants that depend on natural gas for cooking; many of these employ people of undetermined immigration status. Other businesses were affected because people were displaced and in crisis.
Many of those affected by the crisis live in Lawrence, which is the most impoverished city in Massachusetts; 27% of residents live at or below the poverty line, according to a June 2018 report issued by the MA Association for Community Action.
Columbia Gas established a mechanism where homeowners and businesses could apply for reimbursement for lost wages/business income, hotel bills, food replacement, appliances that needed to be replaced, etc. 
New England Conference decided to focus our efforts on people of undetermined immigration status who may have been afraid to come forward and seek help through official channels.
The New England Conference requested and received a $10,000 solidarity grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and asked churches and individuals to donate to UMCOR; the Conference received just under $5,000 in donations directed toward this. As of this writing, all of the UMCOR Solidarity grant funds have been distributed.
The Conference worked with the Asociacion Ministerial Evangelica del Area de Lawrence (AMEDAL) to identify individuals in need. We partnered with AMEDAL to identify 29 families who needed help with temporary housing, rent, food, and with paying bills while they were out of work. 
Each family was given $500 (five $100 gift cards) in card holders imprinted with the Conference and UMCOR logos; $14,500 worth of cards were distributed. The cards were distributed through AMEDAL’s network, using an application system developed in consultation with the Conference.
The Conference has vowed to stay connected with AMEDAL to seek future opportunities for partnership.
We would like to thank our churches that stepped up to host community meals and offer other assistance during this time, and to all of those who made donations to support these efforts. Our thanks also to UMCOR for its guidance and support.