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Big Y helps to rebuild West Springfield

Date: 8/2/2011

Aug. 3, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD — “If we don’t do something fast, our customers and employees yell at us,” Big Y Chief Operating Officer Donald D’Amour joked as he handed a check for more than $141,000 in tornado relief donations to Rick Lee, executive director of the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter, on July 28.

The money was collected through a special in-store customer and employee tornado relief donation program established in the wake of the June 1 disaster. That money was supplemented by donations from Big Y employees at its store support and distribution centers, a $50,000 matching gift from Big Y Foods and $10,000 in personal donations from both Donald and Charles D’Amour.

Lee said the money would be first be used to settle outstanding bills from the chapter’s June disaster relief efforts. Any unused funds, he said, would go back to the American Red Cross’ national disaster relief fund, which assisted the Pioneer Valley Chapter when the tornado hit.

Standing in his company’s Memorial Avenue store, located less than a mile from the town’s hard-hit Merrick section, Big Y Chief Financial Officer Charles D’Amour said though his company has raised funds for many causes in the past, including the Hati earthquake and Japan tsumani, the effects of the June 1 tornado “struck close to home.”

He recounted stories of the West Springfield stores’ employees and customers watching the funnel cloud move down Memorial Avenue, of customers seeking shelter in other area Big Y locations — some even staying overnight in stores when the destruction made it impossible for them to get home — and of employees going above and beyond to provide beverages and other aid to stranded storm victims.

Lee said Big Y had initiated talks with the chapter about a fund-raising effort to aid the victims of the Joplin, Mo., tornado when the Western Massachusetts disaster hit. Big Y’s focus, he added, quickly shifted gears.

“When we had set up our temporary warehouse on Cottage Street, the first tractor trailer that rolled in had a Big Y logo on the side of it, and it was filled with bottles of water,” Lee said.

Charles said as a locally based company, it has an advantage when disasters strike.

“We’re in the community and we’re able to mobilize quickly to provide the support needed, to provide the money needed [to help],” Charles said. “Our customers and employees are so generous, we knew if we provided a vehicle [for donations], they would come to the table to help.”

Lee said following the June 1 tornado, which carved a quarter mile path across 39 miles of Western Massachusetts from Westfield to Charlton, the Pioneer Valley chapter provided more than 160,000 hot meals, 38,000 clean-up kits containing gloves, rakes and tarps, 9,000 comfort kits filled with personal care items and two tons of ice in buckets to help victims remain hydrated and safe as they worked to clear homes of debris. Though many individuals believe the Red Cross has ceased disaster relief services, Lee said the chapter is still supporting some families residing in hotels while waiting for permanent housing to become available. He said those families should be resettled sometime in early August.

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