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Donations For Spruces Eyed For Long-Term Needs
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
10:53AM / Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Residents are slowly getting back into the park but the ourpouring of community support is not stopping. The organizations leading various fundraising campaigns are now looking at long-term needs.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — More than two weeks after the Spruces Mobile Home Park flooded and left nearly 300 people temporarily homeless, those in charge of managing the outpouring of donations now want to move to step two.

Groups and individuals stepped in to provide assistance for immediate housing for some 40 people who had nowhere else to go. The Interfaith Action Initiative took the lead through First Congregational Church to provide hotel and meal vouchers.

As of Monday, those residents are still in hotels but with Federal Emergency Management Agency money starting to trickle into bank accounts and some residents getting back into their homes, the interfaith group is starting to look at what the long-term needs will be.

"We're beginning to think our using motels is not the best use of our cash,'" Robin Lenz, coordinator of the interfaith clergy emergency response team, said on Monday. "My goal is to put myself out of a job."

Putting people up in eight different hotels has been draining the donations quickly. The residents are being given two-day vouchers at a time while the funds from various fundraisers are added to the account. Only once so far has the organization turned to the tenants association, which is also accepting donations, for help.

"Every day, we pretty much go home with an empty bank account," Lenz said. "Last week, we were holding our breath but I've seen the dedication of the town and I can breathe easier this week."

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The tenants' account is also running on limited funds and is being used to help pay for is needed at the park, including the inspection fees for the homes.

"We can only go so far," David Rebello, vice president of the tenants association, said on Monday. "We need it badly. We need it very badly."

Not only has the interfaith council been providing short-term housing it has also been giving the residents gift cards for food. Lenz is now encouraging donations be given to the Community Fund for the Spruces at the Williamstown Savings Bank. That fund, through the Williamstown Community Chest, will be helping residents with long-term housing solutions.

"I know if we run into a jam, they'll help," Lenz said while reassuring her commitment to continue with emergency housing and food for as long as it is needed. "We've been the organization to offer immediate need."

Despite the fundraising technicalities and exhausting work, Lenz and Rebello both said they were awed by the outpouring of support from the town. That sentiment has been echoed by many others involved.

"I've never been prouder of this community than I am now," Selectmen Chairman Thomas Sheldon said on Monday.

For residents who have yet to apply for FEMA funds, a second Disaster Recovery Center at the park has been opened.

Donations to benefit the residents of the Spruces may be made to:  "Community Fund for the Spruces" through the Williamstown Savings Bank, 795 Main St., Williamstown; Williamstown Community Chest, PO Box 204, Williamstown; "Spruces Tenants Association," c/o South Adams Savings Bank, 273 Main St., Williamstown, or area churches.
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