Catholic Free Press

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Fitchburg parish helps fire victims

Posted By June 21, 2012 | 1:23 pm | Local
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By Patricia O’Connell
CFP correspondent

FITCHBURG – On June 5, Sister Mary Naccarato, PBVM, was leaving morning Mass at St. Joseph Parish.
She drove down Daniels Street and noticed a small flame in an apartment building just down the hill and across the street from the church.
Sister Mary also realized she didn’t have her cell phone. So she and another sister drove to a nearby fire station to report the fire.
By the time she returned to Daniels Street, most of the four-story tenement was ablaze.
Meanwhile, as reported in the local newspaper, a quick-thinking passerby ran into the building to wake people up. Fortunately, no one was killed, although one tenant and one firefighter were injured, according to the Sentinel & Enterprise, the local daily newspaper.
But everyone who lived in the multi-unit dwelling was displaced.
They gathered outside, many barefoot and still wearing pajamas. And they were quickly brought to St. Joseph Parish hall, where parishioners worked throughout the day to feed, clothe and comfort them.
The large parish hall was filled with people – parishioners, displaced residents and their family members and emergency personnel, said Sister Mary.
She said the hall was used as a triage center, as residents of the burned building were checked for injuries and smoke inhalation. Some people were taken from St. Joseph to the hospital.
Since the fire started while many were still sleeping, they didn’t have time to get dressed. But that was easily solved.
The parish runs a “Clothes Closet” a couple miles away at the former Madonna of the Holy Rosary parish. Free clothes are available to those in need.
Sister Mary called parishioner Beverly Hofer, who oversees the Clothes Closet.
Mrs. Hofer came to the church hall and helped Sister Mary talk to the displaced residents and find out their size of shoes and clothing.
Then she and Mrs. Hofer went to the Clothes Closet and assembled four or five complete outfits for each person. The displaced residents were given plastic bags filled with shirts, pants, socks and shoes.         Sister Mary said this enabled the people “to be able to leave the church at least dressed to be able to go with families and friends.”
People were also given Mrs. Hofer’s telephone number in case they needed more clothes in the days and weeks to come.
Some of the people were placed in local motels. Others moved in with family and friends. All were given food, which was supplied by the local St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Sister Mary said a lot of the food distributed had originally come from a sock and soup drive at St. Bernard Elementary School, held last March in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
“We were fortunate we had the resources,” said Sister Mary. “We were able to respond to the need of the people.”
She also credits the people of St. Joseph for being on the front lines.
“At one point we had well over a dozen parishioners on hand to assist in the kitchen,” she recalled.
Throughout the day, food was served to the people who suddenly found themselves without a place to live.
Sister Mary, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s, moved to Fitchburg about two years ago. Since her arrival, she said she’s been impressed with the strong commitment to the Gospel values she’s noticed while she’s been here.
“I was moved,” she said of the response to the fire victims. “I have had the good fortune with my moving (here) and my (vocation) discernment to be part of St. Joe’s and the wonderful community we have there.”
She said the parishioners responded to the fire in a very beautiful way of welcoming their neighbors in need.
The doors of St. Joseph were immediately opened, she noted.