EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A month after a fiery train derailment upended lives in East Palestine, the community has also experienced an outpouring of support. On Saturday, a Columbiana County nonprofit delivered the largest load of donations it has received to families affected by the Feb. 3 derailment.
The Brightside Project, based 20 minutes away in Salem, typically focuses its charity work on children in the county. It expanded its crisis relief program to include entire families following the tumultuous weeks after the train derailment.
“It could’ve happened to my family because we live in Salem and the tracks are only a couple blocks away,” said Scott Lewis, the executive director of the Brightside Project. “It could’ve been us. And I’d like to think if it was us, we’d be getting the same type of love in our community.”
Families were forced to temporarily evacuate after the Norfolk Southern train, carrying hazardous material, left the tracks in early February. The crash and a controlled release of some of the toxic chemicals have left many in the town worried for their health and safety since returning home.
“There’s just so much unknown about everything. They tell us everything’s safe, but yet it’s hard to believe that it is,” said Paula Richards, who lives a half mile from the derailment site. “I have asthma and it’s been under control with my medication. But when this happened, it just completely flared it up and I’ve been having trouble since with my breathing.”
Richards was among the residents in a long line of cars Saturday, waiting to pick up food and supplies from the Brightside Project.
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“With my asthma, I’ve missed a lot of work. So it helps to have a little bit of this help to make it a little easier,” she explained. “I think this is wonderful. I think everybody that’s donated the whole time is great. It’s amazing that people have come together.”
Lewis said the organization received more than 1,000 financial donations and countless other corporations and individuals have donated items for the crisis relief in East Palestine.
“It’s really eye-opening to see how many people need help out here,” said Dean’s Dairy general manager Ed VanCise.
The company volunteered time and donated pallets of 2% milk during the Saturday distribution.
“Today’s a day of giving back and saying, ‘Hey, I’m here for you guys.’ We’re here for you, we love you,” said Travis Mong, the owner of Quality Water Systems, who was also volunteering and handing out bottled water to residents.
The Brightside Project distributed water, personal care items, pillows, paper products, air filters, as well as a variety of food and produce during the Saturday event. The nonprofit had been previously giving out gas cards and food supplies at its Salem facility and plans to continue collecting donations for the crisis relief.
“We care about you and we love you. And there’s a lot of people across the United States that love you too,” Lewis said.
Richards added, “Since we’re such a small town, we always feel like we’re kind of nobodies. And this just makes us feel more like people care.”
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