Christopher Jones tosses a rainbow assortment of scarves into the air during the Community Strong Benefit held on March 15, 2014 for the victims of the South Fork gas explosion. Jones and his family lost everything in the disaster. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Community gathers to support explosion victims

With the entire audience standing, the Band Jam Finale musicians performed “Stand by Me” at the Community Strong Benefit for South Fork.

The rousing performance that concluded the March 22 event at Fisher Middle School reflects Ewing’s ongoing commitment to restore the lives of those who suffered from the March 4 gas explosion that damaged or destroyed more than 50 homes in the West Trenton South Fork development.

All proceeds from the event went to the Ewing Township Disaster Relief Fund, which was set up by Mayor Bert Steinmann for residents whose properties were destroyed or damaged.

Money received from individuals, companies and organizations go directly to the fund.

As of March 20, the relief fund had received $227,185. This amount includes $100,000 from PSE&G, $25,000 from New Jersey Manufacturers, and $10,000 from the Muslim Brotherhood, Mayor Bert Steinmann said.

The Credit Union of New Jersey Foundation has contributed $5,000 in cash and gift cards. Individuals, businesses and groups have contributed thousands of dollars.

“People have stepped up, the whole community in fact,” the mayor said.

More money has been made since the figure released on March 20 by the township, including the Community Strong event which brought in $3,500 from 700 attendees, according to Ted Forst, Ewing head of Community Affairs.

On March 23, the Trenton Rotary Club sponsored a benefit at River Horse Brewing Company. Other events were held over the weekend and earlier in March including a drive by the Republican Women of Mercer County.

The disaster relief fund will be managed by a committee comprised of community volunteers, in addition to township and county professionals.

The committee will focus on the long-term needs of those impacted. To gain an in-depth understanding of their current and future needs, the group is reaching out to families via phone and email.

“There are a number of families who could be impacted by the explosion for years,” said Maria Sypek, a Ewing resident and retired state Superior Court Judge who heads the group. “That’s why continued support from individuals and companies is appreciated.”

Sypek said that the group’s membership is still being finalized, but that the decisions on the distribution of funds will not be made by Ewing Township employees.

According to the fund’s mission statement, “The Ewing Township Relief Fund is committed to the prompt distribution of all contributions made to the fund to those residents of South Fork who suffered a significant loss as a result of the explosion occurring on March 4, to provide emergent relief to those showing a need for interim funding to obtain housing and to meet basic needs until more permanent accommodations can be arranged. “

The amount of the awards will be based on the hardship shown by each applicant and will therefore, vary among applicants based on established factors and standards set by the Fund.”

Assistance for victims began on the day of the explosion when the West Trenton Fire Department joined forces with Mayor Steinmann and the American Red Cross setting up a temporary shelter and information center informing people if and when they could return home. The Red Cross also helped find hotel rooms for a few families who had no relatives living close by.

On March 15, the township and the Red Cross held a Family Assistance Day at the Community Center where affected residents received some money for immediate needs.

Residents were able to choose goods such as clothing, blankets, toiletries, baby items, and toys.

At the event, headed by Forst, non-profit groups, government agencies, and businesses offered free services and served as information resources.

Over 27 groups participated including members from the Ewing Township Relief Fund volunteers. Since the Family Assistance Day, support has been steady, and new events are being planned.

The Community Strong fundraiser concert included 11 acts. Ewing resident Amy Otey — Grammy nominee known as Miss Amy, Making Music Fit for Kids — organized the entire event in less than three weeks. In addition her act, Miss Amy and the Big Kids Band, the event included Meet Leo; Ewing’s FIRST Robotic Team 2016; the Southern Shaolin Academy; Two Man Trio; Mo Lowda & the Humble Feat; the TEMPOraries, joined by Rich Scannella, drummer for Jon Bon Jovi; and a visit from Mayor Steinmann.

The show’s MC Greg Rapport thanked the 50 people who made the event possible, including the performers and the people working behind the scenes. Following the “Stand By Me” finale, TEMPOraries leader John Savage’s voice cracked when he announced that this would not be the last event for the people of South Fork.

To learn more about the TEMPOraries or other Community Strong performers, email Greg Rapport, at


How can you help the explosion victims?

Make a contribution on the Ewing website Disaster Relief Fund page: 609-538-7601.

Attend or help sponsor the June 6 Fundraising Bingo Night at the West Trenton Firehouse, 40 W. Upper Ferry Road (Parkway Avenue), 6 p.m., sponsored by the Credit Union of NJ Foundation. 609-538-4061, ext. 2109, Sarah Twiggs.

Drop off new clothing or toiletries at the Credit Union of New Jersey, 1301 Parkway Avenue or at any of CUNJ’s locations. 609-538-4061.

Drop off new clothing at Home Front, 1880 Princeton Avenue, Lawrence. Clothing should be labeled “Ewing Disaster Relief.” Items not picked up by South Fork residents after two weeks will cycle into Home Front’s general pool. 609-989-9417.