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Globe Santa

Hundreds of families affected by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions seek Globe Santa’s help

Executive director of Globe Santa, Bill Connolly (center), with US Postal Service team members (from left) District Manager Michael Rakes, Marketing Manager James Holland, Postmaster Boston Nicholas Francescucci, and Communications Manager Steve Doherty. The Postal Service delivers packages of Globe Santa Christmas gifts to more than 33,000 children in need.
Executive director of Globe Santa, Bill Connolly (center), with US Postal Service team members (from left) District Manager Michael Rakes, Marketing Manager James Holland, Postmaster Boston Nicholas Francescucci, and Communications Manager Steve Doherty. The Postal Service delivers packages of Globe Santa Christmas gifts to more than 33,000 children in need. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

This has been a difficult holiday season for families across the Merrimack Valley in the aftermath of the September gas explosions, and it’s an especially trying time for one Lawrence family with three young sons and a mother who recently lost her job.

After the explosions and fires in the valley that killed one young man and left thousands without gas service for heat, cooking, and hot water, the family sought shelter in a hotel, like many who were displaced.

The parents were given a tentative date of Nov. 21 to return home, but it was another week before they got the go-ahead. Then, when the time came, they felt unable to move back. The trauma their boys — ages 8, 10, and 11 — experienced during the crisis felt too great, the mother explained.

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“My kids are having nightmares, still,” she said recently. “You can see the angst and anxiety in their whole demeanor.”

She is one of hundreds of concerned parents across the Merrimack Valley who wrote letters to Globe Santa this year detailing holiday challenges made all the more pressing by the upheaval that the gas disaster brought into their lives.

The letter writers describe already tight budgets stretched and broken by mounting expenses brought on by the gas and electrical outages and the ensuing evacuations.

They are grateful their struggles are not as severe as those suffered by neighbors who lost their homes. But with any money that had been saved for Christmas spent on necessities, they plead for a little relief and fun to give their children.

A woman from Andover said she is struggling financially as her three children are suffering from the death of their father just over a year ago.

“My children are aware of the fact that times are tough for us right now and that we are lucky because it could have been a lot worse,” she wrote in her letter. “This ordeal has affected us financially and emotionally, and a little help would really go a long way for us this year.”

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By now, almost all the Merrimack Valley families have been able to return home, but several who were contacted by the Globe recently said the troubles they described in their letters still weigh heavily on them.

A woman from North Andover wrote to Globe Santa: “I am a single mother and sole financial provider for my three boys. This year seems to be a little harder to think of Christmas shopping. We lost our heating, cooking and laundry ability . . . in our home due to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.”

Another Lawrence mother said she had a little Christmas money saved before the gas incident drove her and her son from their home, but it is now gone.

“I used the money for food, clothes, supplies for my son and I. Anything you send would be gladly appreciated,” she said.

A father from Lawrence talked about how the failure of his family’s small taco business earlier in the year exacerbated the losses they suffered from the Sept. 13 explosions.

“Thank God our house was OK, but we made many unexpected expenses that weren’t in our budget,” he said. “I’m pretty sure my son will be happy when he finds out that Santa and his crew got something for him.”

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Globe Santa will help them all put gifts under the tree this year and provide a bit of joy during a disruptive time.

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Donations to Globe Santa are running behind last year, but the program’s organizers are hopeful that a surge in giving will make up the difference and then some.

Please consider contributing by mail, phone, or online at globesanta.org.


Jeremy Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com