AUBURN — Heartfelt words of gratitude were shared early Thursday evening by victims of three devastating downtown Lewiston fires almost six months ago and by many members of the community who came forward with immediate and essential help.

At a reception at the Hilton Garden Inn, the United Valley chapter of the American Red Cross honored several dozen local organizations and businesses that donated emergency supplies and assistance when the disaster displaced about 250 apartment building residents in April and May. Ten buildings burned.

“We are here to thank people who have made a difference in our lives,” said Jenny Cowie, chairwoman of the United Valley chapter’s board of directors. She recalled the night of the fire that destroyed three large apartment buildings at Blake, Pine and Bates streets.

“I saw a woman holding a baby and my first thought was ‘How will she ever get the baby food, the diapers, the clothing and crib?’ And now we can see that we all helped,” she said. “They were all fed, clothed and sheltered by you.”

Two residents who were displaced by a fire a few days later at Pierce and Bartlett streets were present to voice their appreciation for the communities’ help.

Farah Osman, who had lived at 110 Pierce St., spoke in his native Somali language through an interpreter. He described waking up that night in early May as flames raced through his building. He told how community services helped him through a period of living at shelters provided by Lewiston High School and the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, and that the assistance is still going on.

Just recently, Osman said, checks arrived to help purchase winter clothing, “and I am not even sure where it came from.”

Also speaking briefly of her experience and gratitude was Fatuma Mohamed, also a resident of the Pierce Street building. Both she and Osman have found new homes not far away on Walnut and Maple streets.

Throughout the gathering at the Hilton Garden Inn, a computer slide show of scenes at the late April and early May fires flashed on a screen as attendees enjoyed coffee and hors d’oeuvres, exchanging memories of challenges met under very different and difficult circumstances.

The guests included many representatives of area businesses and organizations. Among those listed as donors were the United Way, Catholic Charities, Pathway Vineyard Church, the L-A Islamic Center, Austin Associates, Hudson Bus Lines, L-A Harley-Davidson, SMK Donuts (Dunkin’ Donuts franchises) and the Auburn Community Band.

Patricia Murtagh, regional CEO of the American Red Cross in Maine, told the group she is in her first year in that position and she learned a couple of important lessons through the experience of the Lewiston fires.

“All disasters are local and personal,” she said. “They touch the heart of every member of the community.”

She credited the local United Way organization with providing “consistent and effective coordination for volunteer and donor efforts.” She also praised the Salvation Army for preparing many hot meals for victims and workers throughout the emergency and beyond. Also credited with assistance were Bates College and Trinity Jubilee Church.

Murtagh said she was inspired to see how the L-A community “leaned in, stepped forward and led with its heart” at the time of disaster.

“Thank you for being leaders and responders,” she said.


Facebook comments