By Melissa Tula
Shrewsbury – Days after a half-mile-wide tornado left behind a path of destruction in western Massachusetts, Beth Murray, manager of Shrewsbury Senior Center and a longtime Shrewsbury resident, received an e-mail from the town manager's office saying the town of Brimfield needed help. Moved by the number of affected families, Murray felt compelled to lend a hand. With no formal ties to Brimfield, or the Congregational Church, she took a leave from her job at the Shrewsbury Senior Center for a week, and trekked the 35 miles to Brimfield and back every day.
Packing her vehicle with chainsaws, food, water and diapers, Murray headed to the Brimfield Congregational Church, where relief efforts are being run by Rev. Ian Lynch and his wife, Gina.
When Murray arrived at the church, she quickly learned the full extent of damage left by the tornado.
“The first thing I saw was the Village Green Campground,” Murray said. “It was totally devastated. It looked like toothpicks in the ground instead of trees.”
Inside the church, dozens of volunteers worked organizing relief efforts. Generous meal donations had been made by residents, along with two buses of supplies from Wal-Mart, donated by the University of Massachusetts. According to Murray, an entire wall of the church had been filled with notices and photographs of missing pets.
During her first day volunteering, Murray said, “I held a 19-day-old baby so the mother could eat.”
She was assigned to Hollow Road, one of the areas hit hardest by the storm.
“It was so sad,” Murray said. “Families spent the days picking through the rubble, trying to find their things. There was a red house that only had a front door. When you opened the door, you could see the field behind it. Entire farms were just gone. People either went to stay with relatives or were living in tents with no food or water or electricity.”
Murray spent her days driving up and down Hollow Road, delivering meals and water to the families working to recover their possessions and rebuild their homes. At one point, she was making 46 stops several times a day, delivering supplies to residents and volunteers.
“It's like one thing on top of ten others for these people,” Murray said. “Brimfield is the town that was forgotten.”
She got to know the families of Hollow Road, offering friendship, as well as her time. Murray related the story of an elderly couple who waved her off every time she tried to stop at their property to offer help.
“It's hard for some people to ask for help,” she said. “Then I found out they liked desserts, so I pulled up one day and said, ‘Before you say no, I have blueberry pie and you can’t let me go back to the church with supplies still in my car.’ That day, they finally let me help.”
In addition to “supplying” Hollow Road, Murray worked at the church packing meals, sorting donations, unloading trucks and checking expiration dates on food and medicine.
Murray took note of the generosity of people in a time of need.
“The Norfolk Fire Department came in and put on a cookout. It gave everyone a break from their problems.”
Local and out-of-state church organizations also gave generously to the relief effort.
“Church groups from Alabama and Kentucky came to help,” Murray said.
Since the week spent on Hollow Road, Murray has returned to her position at the Senior Center, but she continues to go out to Brimfield on the weekends and when time allows during the week.