By Courtney Paquette and Jill Harmacinski
LAWRENCE — Coats, pizza, coffee and sandwiches. Within hours, the people of the Merrimack Valley and beyond were helping the estimated 200 people affected by yesterday's fire.
But more is needed. It will cost the Merrimack Valley Red Cross about $88,000 to feed, clothe and shelter the victims until they are able to get back on their feet.
To help this endeavor, The Eagle-Tribune has reopened its Santa Fund to raise money for the Red Cross. All the money raised will go directly toward helping the families. It is the first time ever the fund has been opened outside the holiday season.
"The Santa Fund is historically to help families in need. Right now there are families that lost everything in this fire," said Eagle-Tribune Publisher Al Getler. "In an unprecedented move, we are reopening the Santa Fund to aid the Lawrence fire victims."
Donations of food and clothing were already pouring in by 10 a.m. to help the families as well as those firefighters, police and emergency workers who spent hours knocking down the fire — as well as keeping it from spreading.
Members of the Manchester, N.H., chapter of the Boston College Club were collecting coats and clothes for the evacuees. The club helped 26 families left homeless by a five-alarm fire on Lake Avenue in Manchester on Jan. 17. Now, they're ready to help out Lawrence.
Pronto Pizza and Sal's Pizza donated dozens of pizzas to feed the firefighters and police officers. Burtons Grill in North Andover sent sandwiches, cheeseburgers, french fries, soups and salads. Area Dunkin' Donuts sent countless boxes of Joe and cups, doughnuts and munchkins.
Anonymous good Samaritans dropped off boxes of doughnuts and pastries in a large camper police and firefighters used as a command post. Food also was dropped off at the makeshift shelter set up at the South Lawrence East School.
Donald and Kelly Frazier brought coffee and doughnuts to the fire scene at 4 a.m. Later, they ferried pizza and sandwiches from area restaurants back to the fire scene.
Sharon Birchall, police Chief John Romero's girlfriend, and former City Councilor Marie Gosselin manned the command center all day, encouraging cold and tired police and firefighters to take a break.
"We just wanted to make sure everyone was kept warm with coffee and fed," Birchall said.
Angel and Glenys Mendez of Lawrence heard about the fire on the news and wanted to reach out to the victims. So they enlisted the help of their 6-year-old son, Josias, and their 5-year-old daughter, Gleanys, and gathered things they no longer need.
They walked into the Red Cross shelter at South Lawrence East School with plastic bags full of clothing and games yesterday afternoon.
"We need to come together as a community," the father said.
For others who are looking to help, it is best to donate money, said Jamie Devlin of the Merrimack Valley's chapter of the American Red Cross. The Red Cross can use money to give the victims vouchers to buy things they need, like food and clothing, Devlin said.
"Really what we need the most is financial donations," Devlin said.
Two ways to donate
Cash donations can be made to either:
The Eagle-Tribune Santa Fund
Donations can be dropped off or mailed to:
The Eagle-Tribune Santa Fund
100 Turnpike St.
North Andover, MA 01845
Donations are accepted in cash, check, VISA, MasterCard, Discover or American Express.
The Merrimack Valley Red Cross:
Donations may be mailed or dropped off at:
177 Ward Hill Ave.
Ward Hill, MA 01835