Responding to tragedy with compassion
On February 20, 2003, the Station Nightclub in West Warwick caught fire when flammable foam lining the walls and ceiling were ignited by pyrotechnics set off during a Great White concert. One hundred people were killed and more than 200 injured.
It is a wound that cut Rhode Island deeply.
And yet, if we are to take any solace in this tragedy, it can be found in the strength of the survivors and the victims’ families and the response of the community. Rhode Islanders mobilized immediately with a remarkable outpouring of charitable donations. State government, the clergy, nonprofit organizations, the private sector, and the state’s major charities united in almost unprecedented fashion to respond, anticipate, and coordinate.
Family Service of Rhode Island took on the role of coordinating case management services to the victims and families. As more than $2 million poured in, a committee led by the United Way of Rhode Island’s then-President Dennis Murphy and the Rhode Island Council of Churches then-Director Rev. John Holt advised on how funds could be distributed to meet the short-term, emergency needs.
The focus gradually shifted to the longer-term needs of the victims and families, and the funds were transitioned to the Rhode Island Foundation for long-term stewardship. As we said in a 2003 newsletter, “Gifts have come from children’s piggy banks, school road races, Shell and Texaco retailers, corporate contributions, and thousands and thousands of individual donors.”
The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund ultimately became the Station Nightclub Fire Children’s Scholarship Fund to provide financial aid to children of Station Nightclub victims and survivors pursuing post-secondary education and training. Since its inception, the Fund has provided assistance to more than 30 children.
In 2015, we joined again with the United Way of Rhode Island to provide $150,000 of support for the Station Nightclub Memorial, a permanent memorial at the site of the fire.
The Foundation is proud to have supported the community in its response to this tragedy and to continue to honor the legacy of those who were lost.