Ecumenical Spirit Leads Fire Recovery Effort

Posted: 6/1/2008

Father Don Tranel[Arkansas] The phrase “Easter fire” usually ignites images of the traditional Easter Vigil celebration on Holy Saturday.

For Glenmary Father Don Tranel, the members of Our Lady of the Assumption mission and all the residents of Boone­ville, Ark., the phrase conjures up a different image.

Mid-afternoon on March 23, Easter Sunday, sparks from a welder’s torch set off a devastating fire inside the Cargill Meat Solutions plant. Luckily, the few employees working in the plant that Sunday were unharmed.

Firefighters were unable to enter the plant because of safety concerns. They, along with employees and residents, could only watch as an ominous cloud of smoke rose over the plant and town.

Cargill, which has announced they will not rebuild the plant in Boone­ville, was the largest employer in Logan County. The Easter fire consumed the jobs of 800 people across a region that has very limited employment possibilities.

Soon after the fire, the local Ministerial Fellowship, comprised of only 10 Christian churches in Logan County including Our Lady of the Assumption, rose out of the ashes as one of the first responders to the unemployed workers and their families.

Within five days of the fire, the Ministerial Fellowship established The South Logan County Family Resource Center to provide much-needed help to the families affected by the fire.

This ecumenical response was “historic and unprecedented,” according to Father Don.

Ministers set up offices at the center to provide grief and economic counseling; Cargill established an office to assist employees with benefits and to place employees who wanted to relocate to other plant operations in Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia; United Way staffed an office in order to offer their services to the community.

Within 12 days the Ministerial Fellowship, along with the Chamber of Commerce, hosted a job fair for the unemployed workers in which over 50 companies participated.

The resource center, staffed by local ministers and volunteers from various churches, continues to offer services such as job referrals, résumé services, a food pantry, utility assistance and counseling.

The Ministerial Fellowship hopes that the center will become a permanent resource for those in need in the months and years ahead.

The small Glenmary mission, like all the local churches, has been impacted both economically and emotionally by the fire. Of the 54 families in the mission, seven had family members who worked for Cargill.

Still grieving the loss of the plant, the parishioners are now grieving the loss of friends and family who have had to relocate for employment reasons.

For those who remain, the flame of hope, ignited by their faith and rekindled by the Ministerial Fellowship and all those who have come to the aid of the Easter fire victims, will continue to be a light consuming the darkness.

The story above first appeared in the Summer 2008 Glenmary Challenge.