Jan 222014

Dick Blood, part of the Blood family business management team, the morning of the fireArt Campbell | The Groton Line

Dick Blood, part of the Blood family business management team, the morning of the fire

Three weeks after fire destroyed the landmark Blood Farm butchery and smokehouse in West Groton, a loose network of customers, town officials and residents, employees, and local farm boosters have come together to help out the farm’s employees.

A week ago, Barney Blood, the owner and patriarch of the Blood family that owns and operated the business, confirmed that the business will rebuild. If everything goes according to play, the smokehouse and butcher shop — and the back end slaughterhouse business — will reopen this year in late summer or early fall.

Just after the December 29 fire, many customers of both the slaughterhouse and the finished meats came forward, offering help. An editorial in The Boston Globe confirmed the wide spread impact. The calls, messages, and editorial helped Blood realize that the impact of the fire reached far beyond the farmstead, spanning the Boston area and New England. But Blood has said that his family and the business don’t need help from the public.

His employees may be in a different situation. Several employees are still working, but many of the 20 full time workers were displaced by the fire and are unemployed. While they are eligible for state unemployment insurance, that often falls short of meeting a family’s needs, especially during a cold New England winter when utility bills climb. Four of the employees are Groton residents. All the employees will have jobs waiting at the rebuilt Blood Farm, Barney Blood said, but the potential opening is months away.

Widespread concern about the employees prompted the first meeting of the “Blood Farm Employee Fire Assistance” group on Saturday, January 18. The group wants to figure out how to raise and distribute assistance, with the employees put out of work by the fire as its only priority. The group will dissolve after the farm reopens.

Maria Borino was one of the first people to ask how the community could help. Almost before the last wisps of smoke drifted away on the breeze, she posted on Facebook offering to help in any way she could. She made the first concrete offer too — a meal for each employee at her restaurant; Pizzaria Maria in Nashua. A loyal customer of Blood Farms, she has been putting the farm’s meats on her pizzas for years. She said that an amazing number of her customers, who have come to love the Blood Farm products that she features on her menu, are chomping at the bit to do something to help.

Other people were asking the same question, often asking the farm. So Sharon Blood, business manager of Blood Farm and Barney Blood’s daughter-in-law, represented the business at the meeting to provide the direct contact with the employees and sync up many of the offers of help.

Groton Selectman Jack Petropolous, a neighbor to Blood Farm, put the meeting together after he met with half a dozen employees the day before. He also represents the town on the committee.

State Representative and Blood Farm attorney Sheila Harrington told the meeting that Brad Mitchell of the Farm Bureau is quite invested in assuring that Blood Farm rebuilds. She said that he thinks one of the top challenges in front of the farm is retaining its workforce. Harrington believes that the Farm Bureau can play a big role in making a fundraising event and fundraising in general, successful.

Steve Webber, head of the Groton Community Foundation (GCF); owner of the Gibbet Hill Grill; and president of the Groton Board of Trade volunteered the foundation as an established non profit that could receive cash donations. He recruited Karen Tuomi, Executive Director for the town’s Commissioners of Trust Funds, and Sharon Blood as new board members for the foundation. Tuomi will administer fund disbursements and serve as group treasurer.

Tuomi noted that there is an existing fund in Groton administered by the Commissioners of Trust Funds to help Groton residents such as those affected by the fire. Groton residents can fill out forms that are available at town hall.

Local technology guru Keith Dawson, of The Technology Front, volunteered to set up a website for the employee assistance effort that will eventually become the Blood Farm website. The website has a tentative “go live” date of February 1. (When the site goes live, an update with the URL will be posted on The Groton Line. — Ed.)

Borino will set up a Facebook page that ties into the website, but promises to reach a different audience.

According to Petropoulos, the ad hoc committee will work through Tuomi to adapt the existing process used by the Groton Commissioners of Trust Funds to determine eligibility and administer benefits. Forms requesting assistance would be vetted and processed by Tuomi, and payments would be made on employees’ behalfs directly to the creditor. The employee assistance fund would prioritize costs such as rent, utilities, insurance, and perhaps automotive fuel and in general would not pay for expenses such as medical, credit cards, and other items that may be nonessential. He did say that exceptions to the above can be made and all decisions on payment are at the discretion of the administrator.

A fundraising event or two may be pending, but plans are just beginning to be made. Webber volunteered the use of the Barn at Gibbet Hill Grill and Harrington took responsibility for organizing a fundraiser, possibly on February 27. It will be a public event, with a suggested donation of $20 and up at the door.

Petropoulos and Sharon Blood said that offers for short term employment are welcome from employers who are looking for general labor help with experience particular to the packaging of food and interaction with the public. Interested donors of goods, services or employment can contact selectmen@townofgroton.org or 978-448-1111.