West Reading chocolate factory explosion: Recovery fund nears $1 million

May 12—A fund set up to help people impacted by the fatal explosion at a West Reading chocolate factory has reached almost $1 million.

The West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund was created days after the March 24 blast at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant on South Second Avenue that killed seven workers. It is a joint effort of the Berks County Community Foundation and the United Way of Berks County designed to assist community members impacted by the tragic incident.

The fund was an immediate hit, collecting $7,000 before it was even officially announced. And now, after about six weeks, the amount donated has swelled to $995,000.

A statement issued Friday by the Community Foundation and United Way said that thousands of individuals, families and businesses across the county have contributed.

"We are grateful to everyone who has given to the fund, including so many of our local businesses," said Tammy White, president of the United Way of Berks County. "The outpouring of support of neighbor helping neighbor has been inspiring. We continue to thank everyone for the kind generosity."

The money donated to the fund will be distributed for four uses:

1. Support to the families of people killed in the explosion for immediate financial losses.

2. Support to people displaced from their homes as a result of the explosion.

3. Support to organizations helping people displaced from employment as a result of the explosion.

4. Support West Reading for planning and/or implementation of historical commemoration of the explosion (including, but not limited to the creation of a memorial to those lost).

The money donated to the fund is already being put to good use. Friday's statement said more than $450,000 already has been distributed to the families of those who died in the explosion and those displaced from their homes by the blast.

"Out of respect for the families, we will not be providing specific details regarding those distributions," said Kevin Murphy, president of Berks County Community Foundation. "Our hope is that the funding will ease their burden as they cope with their loss."

The fund will continue to accept donations until May 31.

Donations can be made online at bccf.org or by mailing a check to Berks County Community Foundation, 237 Court St., Reading PA 19601 and noting the West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund in the memo line.

The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, but the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the effort, has preliminarily indicated natural gas fueled the explosion.