By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – When tornadoes unexpectedly touched down and devastated parts of western Massachusetts earlier this summer, people across the commonwealth were concerned. Lee Strout of Westborough was, as well. But the difference between this Westborough carpenter and others is that Strout packed up his tools and headed to the area to help. And each Saturday, that is where you can still find him, helping people make order out of what was a chaotic situation.
Although he is 74 years old, Strout still works full-time. Helping others is not unusual for him – he is a man of deep faith who initiated a Habitat for Humanity project in Westborough years ago and served as a youth club adviser on 12 missionary trips through the churches he has been involved with over the years. He also served with his wife, Carrie, on a trip to the island of Dominica, where he built 100 desks for a school.
Now, as a member of the First Congregational Church in Hopkinton, he has been instrumental in leading a team out to Brimfield to help a couple who live there, Linda and Ron Wilson of Hollowbrook Farm, in their recovery efforts. Sometimes there are up to 15 members joining him, other times there may be only two or three.
The team met the Wilsons through a contact at the Congregational Church in Brimfield, where a disaster relief center had been set up.
“[The Wilsons] had minor damage to their house,” Strout explained, “but their carriages, barns and stable were all destroyed.”
Strout and his team have been assisting with cutting up and removing the many trees that fell on and near the property and to help to re-open roads that have been blocked.
“That's their major need – manpower – to help with the cleanup,” he said. “There is still a huge need. It just seems endless.”
“It's a 50-50 mix of white pine and red oak,” he added. “There's a real danger of forest fires, especially with the weather being so hot and dry this summer.”
In spite of what seems like overwhelming work, Strout said helping out in Brimfield has been a “great experience.”
“We do this for two reasons,” he said. “To accomplish real work and to help people do things they couldn's ordinarily do on their own.”
Insurance monies in many cases will barely cover the cost of repairs and even if they are covered, those funds are not immediately made available, he said.
For example, he noted, a family across the street from the Wilsons received a quote from a company to come in and do a cleanup. It was for $100,000.
“Groups like ours, who can donate our time and expertise can really make a difference and get something done,” Strout said.
Once his work in Brimfield is done, Strout hopes the experience will help to form the blueprint for assisting in other emergencies.
“My passion is to continue on with this and develop a disaster-relief group at the church,” he said. “My suggestion is to set aside monies for the team to help underwrite costs for transportation and other expenses.”
Helping out in Brimfield has been hard work, Strout acknowledged, especially during a long, hot summer.
“It's been an interesting odyssey,” he said, “but great to be part of it.”