Merrimack Valley gas disaster victims enjoy Thanksgiving meals courtesy of Columbia Gas

LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) - Families forced out of their homes after the Merrimack Valley gas disaster received meals on Thursday handed out by dozens of volunteers hoping to make their Thanksgiving holiday a little easier.

Dawn Ryan is expecting 10 people at her house for Thanksgiving dinner — and without a working stove since the gas explosions, she’s picking up some of the 16,000 prepared meals made by Tuscan Brands this morning, all paid for by Columbia Gas.

“It’s incredible,” Ryan said. “Everyone’s very thoughtful and very kind.”

Residents registered in advance for the food and today they are driving to one of three locations, getting a card with the number of boxes they need, and volunteers are packing the meals into their cars.

“I was crying on my way over here,” Sandra Martinez said. “My son was telling me ‘don’t cry’ and I’m like ‘I should have a turkey in my oven, I should be smelling turkey and Thanksgiving food, not coming here to pick up boxes.'”

Knowing this isn’t the ideal holiday celebration, Columbia Gas continues to work through the holiday to meet its full gas restoration deadline of Dec. 16.

There are normally 4,500 electricians and plumbers on the job and today, several hundred gave up their Thanksgiving plans with family and volunteered to stay working.

“I don’t mind it at all,” Andrew Jones, a Columbia Gas contractor, said. “I want to give back to everybody as much as I can. If we were in the same situation, we would see people coming out and helping us.”

Columbia Gas has also set up two locations for sit-down meals.

Residents like Dennis Harriman, who haven’t had heat for months, are able to get a hot meal while spending time with the community.

“They did a nice job decorating, nice little lights, music, so it’s kind of like a banquet style,” Dennis Harriman, one resident without heat, said.

The 50,000 pounds of turkey and all of the trimmings were prepared at 3:30 a.m., just in time for a Thanksgiving meal, despite the extraordinary circumstances.

Harriman said enjoying the feast made him feel “relieved and happy.”

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