UXBRIDGE - Many local businesses and residents help in the wake of a massive fire at the 350,000-square-foot Bernat Mill that devastated as many as 135 businesses and homeowners.
UXBRIDGE - With the remnants of her gymnastics studio buried under a pile of rubble and twisted steel, Tia Hetu knew one of the old axioms of show business is more true than ever - the show must go on.
Now, thanks to an offer from a neighboring gymnastics school in Hopedale, Hetu and her students won't miss a step.
Peter and Tisha Cacciapaglia, owners of McKeon Dance & Gymnastics Center, offered Hetu use of their studio every Wednesday night over the coming weeks.
``It's just unthinkable,'' said Hetu, whose niece once took classes at McKeon. ``They called and said, `Whatever you need, we're open for you. For another gym to do that for a competitor, it's just unbelievable.''
Said Peter Cacciapaglia, ``We've been friends of hers for a long time and we know she's had some bad luck over the last few days. We were happy to help in any way we could.''
Fourteen-year-old Annie Hurley, a student of Hetu's for nearly a decade, said she and the other girls were just excited to get back on the floor.
``It's like one big family. We're just a bunch of sisters with an extra mother,'' she said, nodding toward Hetu.
The Cacciapaglia's charitable gesture, however, is far from an isolated incident, in the wake of a massive fire at the 350,000-square-foot Bernat Mill, a fire that officials said devastated as many as 135 businesses and homeowners.
Uxbridge Police Sgt. Peter Emerick, the director of emergency management for the town, said so many local businesses and residents have called asking to donate money and supplies that he and other officials will meet today to establish a system for handling the requests and doling out the materials.
``People say business is a dog eat dog world, but this is more like dog feed dog,'' said Emerick. ``It's great to see so many businesses rally together like that.''
Emerick said he will meet with other officials to establish a contact person to handle donation requests and create an equitable distribution method.
In the meantime, local companies are already reaching out directly to help out small business owners in need of money and other materials.
Ken Redding, president and CEO of Whitinsville-based UniBank, said his company is offering unsecured lines of credit of up to $25,000 at 5 percent interest for one year to business owners impacted by the fire.
Redding said the applications will be turned around quickly - the first one was received Tuesday and the money will be given out today - so that businesses have some money available between now and when the first Small Business Administration loans which are several weeks away.
``The idea is to make money available quickly, to put money on the table and pay bills,'' said Redding. ``We want people to have resources available while they think about what the next move will be.''
The federal SBA has issued a declaration of emergency in the wake of the Bernat fire and is helping businesses go apply for low-interest loans of up to $1.5 million. An information session is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at the Uxbridge High School auditorium.
Karin Knapik, acting director of the youth center and chairman of the board of the Children's Museum, said she has been flooded with calls by residents and artists looking to donate materials to replace the art supplies and other items lost in the fire.
``I'm overwhelmed for a number of different reasons, half of which are the outpouring of support from friends and people concerned about the Children's Museum,'' she said. ``It's amazing.''
Knapik said many people are calling up, trying to organize fundraisers, auctions, and other charity drives while even more people are calling and simply asking, ``What can we do?''
Paul Rojee, of MicroTech Staffing in Medway, stopped by the recovery center at Whitin Middle School and offered to help any employees of businesses in the fire find temporary or permanent work though his staffing company.
``We can help some of the displaced workers either looking for full-time or part-time jobs,'' he said. ``We have openings in light industrial as well as administrative work.''
For many business owners, the public reaction is just one more peak on an emotional roller coaster that has been rolling since the fire started early Saturday morning.
``It just makes me want to cry when I think about what people are doing for us,'' said Knapik.
Matt Lynch of The Milford (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at 508-634-7556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.