New Ashford Inn Raising Funds for Japanese Family

By Nichole DupontiBerkshires Staff
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A picture of the devastation in Kesennuma City posted on YFrog.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Ritsuko Robinson has been living in standby mode since Thursday when a tsunami crashed into northeast Japan, nearly wiping out her hometown of Kessenuma in Miyagi Prefecture, a once-busy fishing port of 70,000 now reduced to ruin.

While Robinson is safe in her Lanesborough home, her family including her 91-year-old mother, brother, sister-in-law, a nephew and two grandnieces have lost everything. The inn the Komatsu family ran for four decades washed away. Robinson has yet to speak to her brother, but she has been reassured by her niece in Tokyo that they are alive. A friend spotted her brother on television ferrying refugees to high ground in the inn's 20-seat van, and he's now somewhere working with fire and rescue teams.
"We are still hanging in there. I haven't talked to any of my family right now," she said in a phone interview. "I've only heard from friends and family who are safe, mostly my niece. It's very difficult to reach Japan right now. Communication is blocked and even though people can use the public phones for free many cannot even get to the phones. Most people, hundreds of people, are stuck. They are not able to reach the outside."
Robinson waits to receive word about friends and family via texts and phone calls, and she keeps vigil, surfing Facebook, Google, Twitter and any other social media site or station that will bring news of her loved ones.
"I'm trying to use all of my Internet communications to find friends and family," she said. "It's going to take a little while. It's not happening as quick as I wish. When I watch the news from Japan on TV, I search the screen to find a friend's face in the corner. This is a nightmare. The longer people wait the more horrible things are going to become. They have no food, no water, no electricity. Even the rescue people are needing to be rescued in places."
In addition to searching for her own family and friends, Robinson has received messages from random strangers in Michigan, North Carolina and even Australia, asking her if she has heard news of their loved ones in any of her searches. While her resources are limited, she said she tries to help in any way possible.

NHK report on fires in Kessenuma posted on YFrog.
"So many people have contacted me wanting to share that they have missing love ones, too," she said. "They even ask me if I have any information that their family is alive. We are praying for people. I try to update as much as possible and help them out as well."
Information is still scarce in Robinson's world but the outpouring of prayers and support from local families and businesses is growing rapidly. Her friend Louise Palmer, owner of Berkshires Shirakaba Guest House in New Ashford, said an emergency fund to assist the Komatsu family has already been established at TD Banknorth.
"The fund was actually my sister's idea," Palmer said in a phone interview. "She didn't want to give her money to the Red Cross but wanted it to go to someone she knew or a closer connection. Ritsuko and I have been friends for 10 years. In fact, we met at a fundraiser for the Lanesborough Elementary playground. Her family sent over all of this stuff to contribute to the fundraiser, which was a 'Taste of Japan' type event. It's time that we give back."
Palmer said the collection effort is well under way, just days after the 9.0 earthquake broke open the sea upon so many fishing villages. She said other fundraisers to help Robinson's family are in the works right now. While the needs of the Komatsu family are not clear as of yet, Robinson is positive that they will have to rebuild their lives and that every act of goodwill is essential to her family's survival.
"They just ran away with what they had," she said. "They have no clothes, no home, no nothing. We were planning a trip there in April and now I don't if we will be able to get through. My sister in Tokyo is saving every penny so that she can send it to them. Right now, I continue to wait. I will do whatever they need to support them and help them. My memory and my whole life are still there."

To make a donation to the Komatsu family mail a check payable to the "Ritsuko Robinson Family Fund" to TD Bank, 660 Merrill Road, Pittsfield, MA 01201. More details on fundraisers will be posted as we receive them.

Original post: March 13, 2011, 3:02 p.m.

Here is the letter we received on Sunday  from Louise Palmer about the raising funds for the Komatsus.

"Sadao and I are good friends of Ritsuko and David Robinson. She is Japanese, and when she was telling me tearfully about her family's nightmare in Japan, my sister and I had an idea that I'd like to share with you.

Ritsuko is from the Japanese city of Kesennuma. On Thursday it was a thriving fishing port, a bustling area for restaurant buyers from Tokyo and Kyoto to pick up tuna as large as pigs. By Friday, much of the city was gone, either under water or on fire.
Ritsuko grew up in her family’s minshuku, a traditional inn on Kesennuma Bay. Four decades of hard work and warm hospitality were swept away in minutes as the monster tsunami surged ashore. Capsized tuna boats spilled oil into the bay, which ignited in a nightmarish mix of water and flames. The minshuku is gone, and so is much of Ritsuko’s hometown.
After frantic attempts to contact her family, she finally reached a niece who assured her that her brother and his wife, and her 90-year-old mother, had fled to safety.  Her nephew and his wife and their infant and toddler daughters are safe too, but homeless; they’re living in their car.
But the drama is not over. Her brother has been ferrying refugees to high ground in the inn’s 20-seat van, and is now somewhere working with fire and rescue teams. A friend in Tokyo spotted him on the TV news, but fire and rescue can be dangerous work. And when it’s done, he and his family have no home or livelihood to return to. They’ve lost everything.
So have thousands of others. But these people, the Komatsu family, have a special link to the Berkshires. In 2001 they were major contributors to a new playground for Lanesborough Elementary School, where the Robinsons’ daughter Sarah was a student.
Now it's our turn to help them. I have set up a fund for all who want to come to their aid. If you’d like to join us, you can mail a check payable to "Ritsuko Robinson Family Fund" to:
TD Bank
660 Merrill Road
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Please write on the memo line: Louise I Palmer/Ritsuko Robinson.
And please don't leave out the I.
Thank you! PLEASE pass this along to anyone you think might want to help a specific family devastated by this terrible catastrophe. I’ll keep everyone posted on how this tragic drama plays out.
I am also making collection cans for local schools and businesses.
Please call or email me if you would like one.

For now, read the front-page story about Ritsuko and her family in Saturday’s Berkshire Eagle. Here’s a link to it:

And if you want to see Japan as it happens, here’s a link to live coverage from Japan. It’s in Japanese, but the horrific scenes need no translation:
Again, thank you. I know how much the Robinsons and her family in Japan will appreciate anything we can do for them.
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Lanesborough Fire Department Continues Senior Holiday Meal Tradition

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

P.J. Pannesco hands out meals to Lanesborough seniors.
LANESOBOROUGH, Mass. — The town's volunteer fire department has been filling bellies and raising spirits at the holidays for nearly 50 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed its plans to do the latter. There was no way the firefighters were going to stop doing the former.
Sunday at noon, area senior citizens began lining up for a drive-thru holiday meal at the Main Street station. It wasn't exactly the same as the annual community meal the department has hosted since 1974. But it was the best the volunteers could do under the circumstances.
"It was never a consideration that we weren't going to do it," firefighter P.J. Pannesco said as volunteers made final preparations to serve the meals. "When we realized that it was not going to be possible to put 75 people in a room like this — and we can do it because we have plenty of tables — we said, without a doubt, all the restaurants are doing drive-thru and curbside and so can we."
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