The American Red Cross partnered with Ewing Township officials to facilitate a Family Assistance Center where community resources were made available to South Fork families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the March 4th explosion in Ewing.
Nearly every room of the Ewing Community Center was offering resources on Saturday, March 15th. The gymnasium was filled with tables for participating local, county and government agencies, non-profit organizations and business to provide support and assistance to the families.
Mayor Bert Steinmann of Ewing Township and his staff have been working diligently to assist the affected families. The Ewing Township’s Assessor’s Office, Code Enforcement and Health Department were on hand to speak with families at the Center.
Officials from county and state agencies also made themselves available to help the families on Saturday. Representatives from the Mercer County Clerk’s Office, Mercer County Office on Aging, Mercer County Surrogate, Mercer County Office of Veterans Services, Mercer County Consumer Affairs, New Jersey Department of Children and Families, New Jersey Department of Human Services, New Jersey Department of Insurance and Banking, and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission were present.
The Mercer County Division of Mental Health has been instrumental in helping affected families since the night of the explosion and had a private room at the Family Assistance Center to meet with families.
Organizations including HomeFront, Christine’s Hope for Kids and Helping Hands of New Jersey had their services accessible to the families. Mercer Street Friends Food Bank offered supermarket gift cards and Tzu Chi Foundation provided financial support.
Families also enjoyed food throughout the day thanks to generous donations by area restaurants.
In addition to the Family Assistance Center, a donation center stocked with amazing donated items thanks to the township’s efforts was open for the families. Ewing Township employees and volunteers have been working non-stop since the explosion to coordinate donations of new clothing, non-perishable food and household items from the community. The Home Depot also donated goods and Burlington Stores generously donated pallets of household goods and clothing to Ewing Township’s efforts.
THE JONES FAMILY
Tara and Billy Jones and their two children were just one of the 37 families who visited the Red Cross Family Assistance Center. The family’s Crockett Lane home was completely destroyed on March 4th.
When asked about the day of the explosion, Tara said the she received an email from her neighbor, Linda Cerritelli, who was working from home that day. Linda wanted to give Tara a heads-up that the power would be shut off while utility work was being done. Tara said she intended to run home during lunch that day, but her tight meeting schedule kept her at work.
Around 12:50 p.m., Tara received a frantic call from another neighbor telling her about the explosion in their neighborhood. Tara left work and headed home immediately. She could see a large plume of black smoke in the sky as she neared her home. As she drove she thought about two things – her family and her neighbor, Linda.
At the scene Tara met up with husband, Billy, who told his wife that everything was gone. Tara repeatedly tried to call Linda as the gravity of the situation unfolded.
Tara received a call from the dean of students at her children’s school letting her know her son Christopher and daughter Brianna were fine and that the school shook when the blast occurred. Tara immediately headed over to the school pick up the children.
“The dean, the principal and counselors were available to provide support. It was quite emotional when I had to tell the kids what happened,” Tara said. “The school has been phenomenal, offering counseling and other support.”
Tara, Billy and the kids regrouped at a relative’s home in Hopewell. Tara watched the devastation to her home unfold in news coverage about the explosion and fire.
Later that afternoon the couple headed over to the Red Cross Reception Center at the West Trenton Fire House for information. Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Lyn Scott and a team of volunteers were working with affected families, providing emergency assistance and helping families as they waited for updates on the situation.
“All afternoon I kept hoping that I would be able to reach Linda,” Tara said. “I was devastated when I found out she didn’t make it.”
Tara and Billy are not sure when they will be able to return home, but believe it will be one to two years before the cleanup and rebuilding are complete.
Tara indicated that the family has been taking things day by day. “We met separately with Lyn and there has been constant support and follow-up from the Red Cross.”
When asked about her experience at the Family Assistance Center, Tara smiled. “The community has been amazing. It’s incredible to see how everyone has come together to help.”
Like Tara and Billy, members of other families expressed their gratitude for the support they’ve received -- some even moved to tears by the generosity and compassion shown to them by others.