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Chef Chris Bonnivier of Gala Restaurant rallied chefs from other local eateries to cook for the Chamber of Commerce's fund raiser. Bonnivier added that it also gave the chefs a chance to show off locally grown and made food.

Williamstown Chamber Raises 4K For Spruces

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Carol Zingarelli has been moving from hotel room to hotel room since her home in the Spruces Mobile Home Park was destroyed by Hurricane Irene.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Chamber of Commerce raised $4,000 on Tuesday night to help residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park who were washed out by Hurricane Irene.

The chamber turned its annual meeting and dinner into a fundraiser at the Orchards Hotel with the proceeds going to the recently formed Higher Ground organization that is trying to keep the displaced residents on their feet.

Tuesday's event was the idea of Orchards General Manager Bernie English, who donated the space, and the hotel's chef Chris Bonnivier rallied other local chefs to donate the food.

"We reached out to them all and asked if they wanted to be part of it and they jumped up and said 'yes, we will,'" Bonnivier said. "This thing is all about giving back to our community and helping our neighbors."

The hotel's ballroom was packed while people moved their way from table to table tasting culinary samples from chefs at the Williams Inn, Wild Oats, Williams College, McCann Technical School's culinary program and, of course, from the Orchard's Gala Restaurant before the crowd heard a firsthand account of the disaster.

Carol Zingarelli recapped the hardship she had endured as a result from the flood. Only three days before the storm, she remembered talking about how much the Spruces community meant to her  ... and then it was gone.

"We talked about how much we loved our homes, loved our neighbors," Zingarelli said.

She remembered the days leading up to the storm and she knew they would be evacuated but did not want to leave her pets behind. When it hit, firefighters rescued the residents who stayed.

After the evacuation, tenants of the retirement community were expecting to be back in their homes by the end of the day or the next day. However, most of the homes were so severely damaged that town officials deemed the entire park uninhabitable.

Zingarelli then resorted to hotel hopping. She would find a hotel that would accept her and her pets but would have to leave as reservations filled the hotel. On Columbus Day weekend, Zingarelli had to drive to the Springfield area to find a hotel room that she could afford and would accept her pets.

Currently there are many residents in hotels or staying with family because only 51 of 273 homes have passed inspection to be reoccupied.

"I miss the greeting waves. I miss the smiling faces ... Above all, we lost our vibrant community," Zingarelli said. "Moving on and our is nearly impossible.  ... This has been a really dark time for many of these people."

Zingarelli said the displaced residents are now getting depressed and asked the community to continue being supportive.

Robin Lenz, who headed initial relief efforts and is working with the new nonprofit Higher Ground, said Zingarelli is not the only resident feeling depressed. In her efforts to find housing for displaced tenants, Lenz said some of the elderly residents have hinted at suicide.

"On a daily basis we met people who just couldn't imagine starting over again," Lenz said.

Five local eateries created plates for the Chamber's fund raiser. Above is some prosciutto-wrapped melon from McCann Technical High School's culinary program.
However, the townspeople have risen to the occasion with massive fundraising efforts, Catherine Yamamoto, Higher Ground treasurer, said. Residents and organizations have been raising money, most of which has gone into a Community Fund for the Spruces bank account and will be allocated toward helping find new homes for the residents or miscellaneous costs the tenants face because of the storm. More than $100,000 was raised in that account.

"We would like in particular to thank all who donated to the Community Fund for the Spruces. Williamstown Savings responded immediately after Irene by setting up the fund. People gave from their hearts and continue to give generously to help with this ongoing tragedy," Yamamoto said in a follow-up email.

Meanwhile, the future of the park is still unknown and the next steps will be debated in the courtroom on Tuesday but with the additional $4,000, the residents will be able to hang on a little longer.

Tags: Irene,   Spruces,   

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