by Paul Tennant, Eagle Tribune
When overpressurized gas lines caused fires and explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Sept. 13 and thousands of people needed financial help in a hurry, the Essex County Community Foundation stepped up and raised $3 million to aid the victims.
The fundraising campaign began at 11:10 that night, according to Beth Francis, president and chief executive officer of the foundation. By Sept. 16, she said, the foundation began distributing money to the people most in need – those who had lost their homes.
Much of the $3 million raised by the Essex County Community Foundation, along with the $10 million contributed by Columbia Gas, owner of the utility lines, was distributed by Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, the anti-poverty agency that serves Lawrence, Andover, North Andover and Methuen.
About 8,000 residents of those communities were aided by that money, Francis said.
Francis and Carol Lavoie Schuster, vice president for grants and services of the foundation, received the Community Action Council's Heroes in Action Award at the agency's annual gala at DiBurro's Function Hall Friday evening.
"They were in the trenches with us," Evelyn Friedman, executive director of Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, said of the honorees. Friedman pointed out that having a lot of money to distribute presents a big challenge.
She, Francis, Lavoie Schuster and the Community Action Council staff had to make sure the grants were "going to the right people," Friedman said.
Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, who presented a proclamation from the city to Francis and Lavoie, said, "without the help of our partners," the thousands of residents affected by the gas crisis would not have received the help they needed.
"I truly feel like this award belongs to all of us, because without each of you here at Greater Lawrence Community Action Council and all of our amazing community partners, the relief effort would not have worked," Lavoie Schuster said.