By Anthony Hennen
The Center Square
While the train derailment and chemical burn-off in East Palestine, Ohio has left behind destruction and unanswered questions, it’s also shown the resilience of locals, a love of the land, and an outpouring of charity nationwide.
Near the railroad tracks running through the center of town, Fuller’s True Value Hardware store set a sign by its door: “God bless EP. Born here, raised here, staying here.”
Another storefront painted “EP STRONG” in the window. Passersby can see “Please pray for EP and our future” and “East Palestine Lives Matter” in the window at Flowers Straight from the Heart, a florist beside the Dollar General and the municipal office.
Not everyone is dedicated to staying, no matter the cost. Other residents mentioned a great sense of anxiety from not being able to get away from the area. Fatalism, too, is a common sentiment among Ohioans and Pennsylvanians on each side of the state border.
“If I get cancer 30 years down the line, I get cancer 30 years down the line. We’re not leaving,” said Mallory Aponick, disaster services coordinator for the First Church of Christ in East Palestine.
Fatalism, however, doesn’t lead to despair.
“A lot of the press stories have been about the worry and the things like that that are going on,” Aponick said. “But, I’m blessed today. I’m blessed to be on my second roll of stamps filling out thank-you cards for people that have donated water and food and things to us. I’m really grateful to be able to do this.”
The church has given out about 13 pallets of water to locals every week, she estimated. One pallet holds about 3,850 water bottles.
Though water quality testing hasn’t flagged any issue with the water supply, some residents in and around East Palestine still don’t trust it just yet. They raise similar concerns about the soil, as The Center Square previously reported, and want more testing done and information provided before they’ll trust the integrity of the air, the water, and the ground.
For all the water that’s getting donated, the thank-you cards Aponick needs to write are legion.
A convoy from the Rewritten Story Foundation drove up from North Carolina to donate 22 pallets of water. ITI – an engineering firm based in Florida – sent water, cleaning supplies, and animal food. Timmons Feed and Farm Supply, from outside Indianapolis, brought “several tons” of animal and livestock feed, straw, hay, water, and other necessities.
Donations have flooded in from all over Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, and many other states. Beyond America, Canadians and Australians have done the same.
“It’s been amazing, seeing the camaraderie that people have shown and the way the spirit has moved them to help out,” Aponick said.
Last Thursday, she waited for five pallets of water to arrive and expected another six pallets the next day. Donations have been sent by Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, non-denominational and Churches of Christ, Orthodox churches, a Jewish Kabbalah group, and secular sources.
“I am overwhelmed with how, again, how people have just come together to help us out,” Aponick said.
Aponick held up a few notebooks filled with addresses beside the stacks of envelopes thanking the strangers who have reached out. She has 129 emails to respond to, thanking people who donated to their disaster fund to cover residents’ medical bills, rent, relocation fees, and other needs. She’s already written 100 thank-you cards.
“There’s so much good coming from this that has not been highlighted,” Aponick said. “We’re gonna pull through this. It’s important to know that no matter what, we are going to come through this. We’re going to see the other side and it’s going to be okay. It might not be okay right now … but it will be okay.”