West Reading bands together in wake of chocolate factory explosion; nonprofits raise $24K to help

"We just don't have no words for it, we don't know what to say," said an R.M. Palmer employee.

Sunday, March 26, 2023
West Reading bands together in wake of chocolate factory explosion
West Reading bands together in wake of chocolate factory explosion

WEST READING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Community support on a local, state, and federal level has been overwhelming in the wake of the explosion at a West Reading chocolate factory.

The blast happened around 5 p.m. Friday at the R.M. Palmer Co. plant.

Officials said Sunday a fifth person was found dead and two others were still unaccounted for.

READ: 5 dead, 2 missing in factory blast; family of missing woman 'holding on to faith'

Employees and family members of R.M. Palmer came together in solidarity to support one another, as well as the first responders who are working around the clock.

"I know a lot of people in there, and it hurts me knowing when I come in, I'm not going to be seeing them no more," said Victor Colon, an employee at R.M. Palmer.

For many, they are still holding on to hope.

"We just don't have no words for it, we don't know what to say. Our hearts go out to the families," said employee Sylvia Skinner.

Dozens of employees and family members gathered outside of the American Diner in West Reading to show their support and raise funds.

"All their percentage goes to the firefighters," said Skinner. "And we also came out to support the families, they lost loved ones, and families are still worried about one's still missing."

While there was an abundance of support, the pain is still evident in the community.

"I knew every single one of them, had conversation with them," said Colon. "I'd say goodbye to them and hopefully see them tomorrow, but in this case I didn't."

Employees and families want the two missing people to be found, and then, they need answers.

"I want Palmer to give us answers of what happened. I want them to help us," said Jerenys Deleon, from Reading. "Many people's families have lost some people, have not found families, some are still looking. Reading is heartbroken right now."

In response to the tragedy, nonprofit groups have already raised approximately $24,000.

The White House also called, asking how it can help.

"We've seen the absolute best that our tight community has to offer," said Ryan Lineaweaver, West Reading Borough Council president.

West Reading declared a state of emergency following the explosion, officials announced Sunday morning. By doing so, West Reading's mayor says it allows officials to pull in more state resources.

Borough council members say they will vote this week to extend the declaration.

Also lending their support are the United Way of Berks County and the Berks County Community Foundation. Together, they formed the West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund.

"People want to help, they want to provide contributions. We quickly agreed that we could help," said Tammy White, from United Way of Berks County.

Officials say the money will first go to the victims and their families, and then anything leftover will go to the Borough. There, it will be used to honor those who died in the explosion.

"The strength of this community and how we come together to help one another. This is a demonstration again," said White.