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Gas Company Offers Holiday Feast To Those Affected By Pipeline Disaster


There are plenty of people who might be more than happy not to have to cook a turkey today. But in three communities in Massachusetts, they do not have that choice. The region is still recovering from a pipeline disaster in September, and many homes do not have natural gas. So a local restaurant chain has been roasting and baking almost around the clock to prepare some 23,000 Thanksgiving meals. From member station WBUR, Callum Borchers reports.

CALLUM BORCHERS, BYLINE: The 8-foot metal door Jeromy Morse is opening looks and sounds like the entrance of a bank vault. What's inside smells better than money.

JEROMY MORSE: The next round of turkey is going.

BORCHERS: A rack holding 32 birds wheels into this walk-in oven. Morse and his colleagues at Tuscan Brands are cooking almost 50,000 pounds of turkey for people who can't prepare their own. Two months ago, an overpressurized gas main sparked fires and explosions in the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. One person died. Twenty-one others were hospitalized. And residents throughout the area lost their heat, their hot water and the ability to cook in their own homes. Columbia Gas, the utility faulted by federal investigators, has restored service to about two-thirds of affected homes. But repairs haven't come in time for people like Stephanie Gonzalez to make a home-cooked holiday meal.

STEPHANIE GONZALEZ: Our stove still hasn't been replaced, so we can't cook. And the hot water they're working on. It sucks.


BORCHERS: Yes, that's a snow shovel you hear. On top of everything, Massachusetts got a nor'easter last weekend. And the high temperature on Thanksgiving will be around 20 degrees. Columbia's attempt to make the best of this bad situation has included supplying space heaters and hot plates, so people can do some cooking. Paying for a Thanksgiving meal is the company's latest effort. It's a massive culinary undertaking. A vat of chicken stock looks like it could fit the New England Patriots' entire offensive line. It's for stuffing made with ciabatta bread, porcini mushrooms and pine nuts. Dozens of extra cooks from a temp agency help make this enormous meal possible. Tuscan Brands Chief Executive Joe Ferro says the real challenge has been finding food suppliers who can fill oversize orders.

JOE FARO: We literally had to go to a fresh turkey processor and clean them out. You know, it was quite a feat, actually, to get all the materials reserved and then get them here and then process them. And then we got to package them hot. You know, we've been working on this for weeks.

BORCHERS: Most of the dinners are boxed and ready for pickup this morning. There are community buffets, too. It's not how most people would choose to spend the holiday. But at least the food will be good. For NPR News, I'm Call Borchers in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Collum Borchers