LEWISTOWN - The outpouring of support for the victims of the Juniata Terrace fire has been tremendous. What the community now needs to start thinking about is long term plans to help those who will need it.
Marie Mulvihill, executive director of the Mifflin-Juniata United Way, said the immediate needs of the fire victims were meet by the Red Cross, and what these people really need now is to find housing.
"Only four households needed the support of hotels that first initial night. Everyone else was able to stay with friends or family," Mulvihill said. "However, that is only a temporary solution, they cannot stay with them forever."
Mulvihill said to help with long-term recovery, residents are being encouraged to support the victims with monetary donations through the Juniata Valley Bank. Many of the residents who have been displaced are from working-class families, and all have varying needs when it comes to what was lost. She also said that the United Way has partnered with the American Red Cross and Goodwill. Mulvihill believes that those displaced simply want to get back to normalcy and the JVB account is starting to help with that.
"I was contacted by the JVB and we are going to be giving checks weekly to those residents who have been affected," she said. "If your business or group can put money in that account that is how the community can keep on giving. Any amount will be accepted, because it all adds up in the end."
In fact many of the places that were originally accepting donations have been so overwhelmed with items, for the time being they have had to stop their collections. One example of this is Junction Fire Company, which was one of the original donation sites, will continue to help to distribute what has been donated. Donations taken to the Goodwill have been getting disbursed through a new partnership with the American Red Cross. John McHenry, executive vice-president of marketing and development for Goodwill Keystone Area, said this partnership is brand new and has not changed the mission of Goodwill.
"Our mission is to support persons with disabilities and other barriers to independence in achieving their fullest potential as workers and as members of the broader community," McHenry said. "Goodwill is not in the disaster recovery business, but this partnership is a great way for the business to give back to the local community."
McHenry continued to say that when a small close-knit community experiences a disaster like the Juniata Terrace fire, having a partnership like this in place uses the strengths of both the Red Cross and Goodwill. He said this the partnership works by converting donations of things to the store into gift cards that can be spent at any Goodwill Store.
"A member of the community can help by donating clothing and other items in the store specifically to the Red Cross. Those donations will then be sorted through and given a monetary value on a gift card," McHenry said. "Those gift cards are then given to the Red Cross, who can give it to the disaster victims. What is nice about this is items can be donated at one store, but the gift cards used at another."
Mulvihill agreed that the partnership is a great way for victims to start long-term recovery, and it allows them to pick-out the items that they want.
"What one person may like, another may hate," Mulvihill said. " Giving those affected the opportunity to get exactly what they need or want, again it all goes back to helping them get some normalcy back into their lives."
One of the things Mulvihill said no one can replace are the memories that were lost in some of the homes in the row. To help combat this problem, 10 local photographers have gotten together to donate photography sessions to those families on the Terrace. Arle Jimenez spearheaded this endeavor, saying that many of the photographers had similar ideas, but were not sure how to go about organizing it.
"Some were telling me that they didn't have enough to give but wanted to do something with their business," Jimenez said. "I was able to get them together and 10 different photographers have donated two gift certificates that are good for a year."
She also said that while this is no substitute for what has been lost, especially for the older residence, but she said many have already expressed their interest.
"I was given a list to help distribute them (the gift certificates) and with the families I have already talked to they seem very excited about this," she said. "Residents of the Terrace who have been affected should contact me at 250-5780."
Throughout the week following the fire, many businesses and organizations have started holding special events to raise money for the fire victims. Many events have already happened, but some events were already planned but the money being raised is now being donated. For example the Rotary Club of Lewistown, at a recent meeting, voted to donate not only the proceeds from the April 9 Seafood Dinner, but also an initial $5,000 into the JVB account.
Even the local kids have tried to get involved in the efforts to raise money. The students at the Lewistown Intermediate School have been collecting money for the victims and have been writing thank-you notes to the firefighters. Principal Paul Maidens said he believes that this simply shows how a community can come together in times of a disaster.
"Not only have the students been stepping up, but we have also had support from their parents," Maidens said.
The money will be deposited directly into the JVB account, and Maidens said the classroom that raises the most money will have the opportunity to have dessert with the firefighters after a special presentation of the thank-you letters on April 17.
"We have already had teachers asking us for more containers for the money their classrooms have raised," he said.
The donations, both monetary and physical, from the community shows how communities come together even if they have not been directly affected. Mulvihill said the amount of stuff that now needs to be sorted means a tremendous amount of work both for the victims and volunteers. She said if the community would like to help further, the monetary donations will go further for those involved.
"No one is ungrateful for the stuff donations, it all goes back to these households wanting to get back to normal," she said.
To make a monetary donation the community can go to any branch of JVB and tell the banker where the money is to go and they will take care of it. The residents of the Juniata Terrace who were affected will be receiving checks from the account weekly to help with their individual recovery needs.