When a fire in Pennsylvania destroyed multiple homes, Kiwanis members jumped into action.

By Julie Saetre

Kiwanis clubs often plan projects to help their communities based on needs surveys, discussions with community leaders and other detailed research. But sometimes an urgent situation emerges, and Kiwanis members jump into action to provide immediate relief.

That was the situation on May 29, 2023 — the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S — in Easton, Pennsylvania. In the middle of the afternoon, a six-alarm fire broke out in the West Ward area of the city. By the time it was controlled, it had damaged or consumed 15 row homes.

The devastation left 45 people, including parents and children, without homes. When Bill Walters, secretary and manager of special projects for the Kiwanis Club of Easton, heard the news, he knew his club could help. The day after the fire, club leaders began to organize a relief effort in conjunction with other area organizations and Easton City Council Member Taiba Sultana.

To address the pressing matter of housing for those impacted by the fire, Third Street Alliance — a nonprofit that provides shelter and childcare for women, children and families in need — offered to help. Other organizations joined with the Kiwanians to plan a lunch for those affected.

At the same time, Walters was busy working to ensure those individuals had quick funds for urgent expenses such as prescription drugs, eyeglasses and cell phones.

“After the fire, I sent an email to our club leadership team, immediate past president, current president, president elect and chair of our foundation,” Walters says. “I made a suggestion of what I felt we might be able to pull together quickly.”

The Easton Kiwanis Club Board approved a minimum of US$3,000, based on the club’s treasury, non-disbursed budget monies and donations from members.

Help in six days
On Sunday, June 4, less than one week after the fire occurred, the Easton club and Full Gospel Cathedral hosted the lunch. Fidelity Bank and its branch manager, Linda Johnson, provided pizza, pasta and beverages, and counselors from the American Red Cross were available for trauma counseling. Easton Kiwanians James Owen (club president), Janet Owen, Nick Ciambrone and Dean Young (who is also the executive director of the Easton Boys and Girls Club) distributed a $75 gift card to each of the 45 guests.

“Today was a good day to be a Kiwanian,” Owens said at the event. “This enabled us to make sure there were considerations and immediate/critical needs met for those families who had children. This is only a beginning. The city of Easton and other agencies are working together to make sure the needs of these folks and others are met as the recovery continues. We will be there to do our part.”

Since the luncheon, the Easton club continues to receive additional donations, which members will distribute to those impacted.

“The healing has begun,” Owens says. “It will be a long way through. Love will guide the way, and we will be there alongside to support and provide resources to the best of our ability. We are Easton, and we are Kiwanis.”

In a surprise twist, the social media coverage of the club’s quick relief drew the attention of a retired schoolteacher in Easton. She searched for club information on kiwanis.org and requested to join.

“Our membership chair spoke with her,” Walters says. “She is so happy that Kiwanis is about kids, she is planning on attending our meeting next week.”