“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said 71-year-old Jim Herbert, referring to the massive shards of ice in Millers River. The unusual ice formations ended up creating a natural dam near Athol’s South Main Street Bridge on January 13, 2018.
Due to the threat from the river’s rising water, a decision was made to evacuate the residents of Morton Meadows, an elderly housing complex located near the South Main Street. “…a lot of the tenants are sick or disabled…” said Christi Martin, Morton Meadows Director. “It was hard on them…”
Some of the ice later broke off and ended up causing damage downstream to the Exchange Street Bridge, which was then closed to traffic.
While some Morton Meadows residents were able to stay with friends or loved ones, many ended up being relocated to area hotels and shelter facilities. A temporary holding and feeding center was also set up in the basement of the Athol Town Hall.
Fortunately no one was hurt, but the unexpected event required the Salvation Army to tap into it’s already strained resources, including those used to provide food assistance, fuel and utility assistance as well as housing/shelter assistance.
“No one saw this coming,” said Lt. Michael Buzzard of the Salvation Army’s Athol Corps. Buzzard and other Corps members oversaw the evacuation center and helped transport individuals with special needs and medical conditions. The Salvation Army also provided coffee and dinner to first responders.
“Serving neighbors in need without discrimination is the core of our mission,” said Buzzard. “But when unexpected needs pop up, like this event, it puts a huge strain on our resources and our ability to help other neighbors with food, shelter, clothing, and emergency funds for basic needs.”
Recognizing that their resources were dipping to dangerously low levels, Buzzard reached out to the United Way for assistance. A decision was quickly made to provide $25,000 in funding support with $10,000 allotted for food assistance, $10,000 for emergency fuel/heating oil needs and $5,000 to fund ongoing shelter and housing needs.
“We have seen the amount of hard work done by the Salvation Army Athol Corps and we wanted to support its service to the North Quabbin community,” said Maribeth Janssens, UWNCM’s Director of Community Impact.
The Salvation Army Athol Corps serves more than 200 people a month in its local emergency food pantry, dozens of families a month with utility and rental assistance, and serves an average of 150 meals a week on Tuesday evenings, Sunday afternoons and Thursday Kids Club.
The Corps’ commanding officer, Lt. Michael Buzzard, and Athol Selectman Steve Raymond, who chairs the Salvation Army Athol Advisory Board, thanked the United Way for its generosity. “This type of support not only helps the Salvation Army reach the growing need in the community, but also shows what happens when agencies work together to meet the holistic need of mind, body, and soul for those served,” said Buzzard.
Anyone who is interested in donating to the United Way may make a contribution at www.uwncm.org or by calling 978-345-1577.
The United Way of North Central Massachusetts serves the communities of Ashburnham, Ashby, Athol, Ayer, Devens, Fitchburg, Gardner, Groton, Harvard, Hubbardston, Leominster, Littleton, Pepperell, Lunenburg, Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston, Shirley, Templeton, Townsend, Westminster and Winchendon.