Tonawanda News

May 4, 2013

Helping from afar

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, took 14 victims away from their loved ones. The blast leveled numerous homes and businesses, destroyed schools and demolished three fire trucks and an ambulance.

And now, a local pastor who was touched by the tragedy, Sam Ciffa, hopes to help rebuild what was destroyed.

Ciffa, who has served as pastor of the Bethesda Full Gospel Church in the City of Tonawanda for 28 years, is organizing an endeavor to raise money for the rehabilitation of the Texas town. 

“When I saw the mayor of West and the fire chief asking for funds to rebuild ... it just seemed like something we as human beings should do,” Ciffa said. 

Ciffa, who also serves as the chaplain for the City of Tonawanda Police Department, said the loss of first responders in Texas inspired him to ask the local fire department for its support.

He contacted Fire Chief Charles Stuart and Mayor Ron Pilozzi — who met with him several times to go over plans. 

“I talked to the mayor, and he suggested getting all of the churches in the area involved,” Ciffa said. “It kind of grew. We added North Tonawanda, and then the town ... and figured we should just do it for our whole area.”

Pilozzi said he fully supported Ciffa’s idea.

“I thought it was just a super idea to help them ... it was a whole town that was devastated,” Pilozzi said. “The more we thought about it, we decided to make it a bigger effort.” 

His office, including secretary Gina Butcher, assisted Ciffa with contacts and the drafting of a letter, and North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt endorsed the project, as well. 

Last weekend, Ciffa sent out a letter to more than 150 churches in the two cities, the town and Grand Island, asking for them to collect a second donation during church services.

“With the passing of a second donation, please consider giving to help those who lost everything,” Ciffa wrote in the letter.

And although he’s asking for just a dollar or two, he’s already received hundreds of dollars from generous locals. 

“I really can’t believe it. Some people have already given a considerable amount ... but think of what we could do if everyone just gave one dollar,” he said. “My desire was that our community would step up to care for other human beings that are suffering. We aren’t trying to get a reward for it, we are just doing it as Christians, as Americans.” 

Ciffa said he’s hoping to receive responses from local churches in the next few weeks, before May 17 — which is exactly one month after the explosion occurred. Ciffa will collect the funds raised by local churches and send it in one package to the disaster relief fund.

“We are thinking of doing something a month from the day the explosion took place,” Ciffa said. “Like a tribute, or a moment of silence, before we send out the offering to bless the people there and help with rehabilitation.”

But individuals and churches are also welcome to send their own personal donations directly to the relief fund, as well. Checks can be made out to West Disaster Relief and should be sent to:

Point West Bank, 200 West Oak Street, West, TX 76691

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley