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Salisbury comes together to help fire victims | News

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SALISBURY — The Hilton Senior Center has become the focal point of an ever-growing volunteer effort to help victims of a major fire on Central Avenue early Monday.

Thirty-six people from 24 families were affected by the fire, which destroyed Michael’s Oceanside Motel and four other buildings, according to American Red Cross Massachusetts spokesman Jeff Hall.

Liz Pettis, executive director of the Salisbury Council on Aging, said she and her staff had already prepared to open the Senior Center as a shelter and warming station that morning.

But Pettis was greeted by firefighters, the Red Cross and 21 dazed and homeless fire victims and their pets, including a parakeet.

“Everyone who was here was in shock,” Pettis said. “They really needed a hug and someone to listen to them. But, what they really wanted was a warm bed. They needed some rest. They needed some sleep. They were all up since 2 a.m.

Staff at the senior center sprang into action and soon the building had become a triage of volunteer efforts.

“A lot of these people didn’t have their keys, they didn’t have their wallets, they didn’t have phones, and they didn’t have their prescriptions,” Pettis said. “But we were able to convince some pharmacies to provide us with emergency supplies to get these people through until they could talk to their doctors. It was amazing to be able to do that. Then the Lions Club stepped in.

Salisbury Lions Club member CJ Fitzwater was getting ready for work on Monday when he received a call from club chairman Michael Colburn.

“He said to me, ‘You’re calling sick today, we have to help some people,'” Fitzwater said.

Colburn was already at the scene of the fire and said he wanted to do everything he could to help whoever he could that day. So he took Fitzwater and they headed to the Senior Center.

“These people were like a deer looking in the headlights when I got here,” Colburn said. “A guy was standing here with his slippers and no jacket. The Red Cross was there, but they were more about taking them to find a place to spend the night.

“We were more about giving them comfort,” he added. “I spoke to a guy for about an hour and a half yesterday about nothing. But it was an hour and a half when he didn’t think he had lost everything in a fire.

Fitzwater said cell phones were the number one request from fire victims, so he and Colburn headed to Walmart to pick up prepaid phones. Fitzwater also used social media to let people know where and how they could help.

“A gentleman showed up with $3,000 in TJ Maxx gift cards, the Pomodori restaurant in Newburyport showed up with $1,500 in gift cards,” Fitzwater said. “The community has really reached out.”

Fitzgerald then made it known on social media that victims could use reusable grocery bags and possibly luggage to put their clothes in.

Pettis said more than 50 bags showed up at the Senior Center late Monday afternoon.

“People came and asked them what they needed and they got it,” Pettis said. “People dropped off over 400 pounds of clothing. Someone deposited Uber gift cards and I didn’t even know you had any. Some people came over and brought other gift cards they had received for Christmas that they hadn’t used yet. It was just huge.

Fitzwater added that the Senior Center raised about $11,000 in gift cards Monday night.

Hall said the Red Cross was able to provide accommodation for fire victims on Monday evening and a multi-agency resource center is planned at the Senior Center on Wednesday.

“We will have a group of local and state agencies there to give these people a chance to shop for benefits,” Hall said.

Colburn said he tries to live by a simple motto.

“We are all judged on our ability to help those less fortunate than ourselves,” Colburn said.

Writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

Writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.