"Oh my goodness! What's happening?" Taylor asked in alarm. "Look! I count eight ambulances and five fire trucks in front of that apartment building. And the police have barricaded several blocks."
"We can't do anything to help them right now, but we can pray," Aunt Alyssa suggested, as she drove around the corner and took a different route to Taylor's house.
"Mom! Dad!" Taylor called as she unlocked the front door. "We saw so many ambulances in front of the apartment building that my friend Cristiana lives in."
"We heard it on the news," Abby replied. "Toxic fumes were released in the hallways of the building, making many of the residents very ill."
"The police don't know yet if it was accidental . . . or intentional," Paul replied."
"I hope Cristiana is okay," Taylor said.
"Why don't we pray for her?" Abby suggested.
After prayer, Aunt Alyssa reported, "The church board decided to sponsor the ‘We Care About Our Neighbors' program."
"Several board members volunteered to help in any way they could," Taylor stated. "And I'm amazed at the number of students who have told me they want to join the program."
"Get some rest." Aunt Alyssa reminded Taylor, "We have busy days ahead of us."
As Taylor got ready for bed, she pondered the events of the past week.
"You want to volunteer, Cristiana?" Taylor had asked in surprise when her classmate came to her house the previous Saturday morning. "But how did you find out that we're trying to restart the ‘We Care About Our Neighbors' program?"
"I heard about it from Jaden's girlfriend, Emma. She heard it from Miranda. Jaden, Mike, Sarah, Ashley, and Jordan will be signing up, too. Since you live just a few blocks from me, I thought I'd come in person to volunteer. I could help Hispanic families since I speak Spanish."
Taylor fell asleep praying for Cristiana and everyone else who lived in her apartment building.
"Wake up, Taylor," Abby gently tapped her daughter's shoulder the next morning.
Taylor rubbed her eyes. "What's wrong, Mom? I don't have school today; it's Saturday."
"Aunt Alyssa called. She'll be here in five minutes. Pastor Petrovsky will also be coming."
Abby grabbed a sweater and a pair of pants from Taylor's closet. "Here, put these on, honey. Don't take too long getting ready."
After quickly washing her face and dressing, she raced down the stairs.
Aunt Alyssa, Pastor Petrovsky, and her parents were sitting at the dining room table, drinking coffee and quietly talking.
They look way too serious! Taylor observed.
"Here's a cup of coffee, Taylor." Abby handed her a warm mug, and then sat down.
No pastries? Aunt Alyssa always brings pastries when she visits. Something must be terribly wrong!
Pastor Petrovsky spoke, "The police captain of our local precinct called me at two o'clock this morning. He said the FBI had determined that the toxic fumes were chlorine gas. Several people are in serious condition in the hospital. The buildings were evacuated last night, and some of the residents stayed at a Red Cross shelter."
"Is it safe for the people to return to their apartments now?" Taylor asked.
"No, honey," Paul replied. "According to the FBI, someone intentionally detonated a device to spread the gas throughout the building. Fortunately, the explosion was very small, and the blast damaged only the laundry room. However, it was forceful enough to spread the noxious fumes."
"The law-enforcement agents will be investigating and searching each apartment," explained Abby. "The people won't be able to return until the investigation is concluded and the health department says the building is safe."
"The authorities are asking for our help in providing homes for the elderly residents who have no family here and no place to go," Pastor Petrovsky explained.
"It's not safe for the elderly to be staying in homeless shelters," said Paul.
"Can we present the need to the congregation on Sunday?" Taylor asked. "Perhaps families could take in the people."
"I'm going to contact some members this morning," Pastor Petrovsky replied. "But I think we need to have a bigger plan than that . . . just in case . . ."
"That's why we're meeting now to discuss it," Aunt Alyssa stated. "We have to be prepared to help more people, if it becomes necessary."
In case what happens? Taylor wondered as she listened to Aunt Alyssa and Pastor Petrovsky suggest how the church could be set up to house and care for a large number of people.
"If any businesses are forced to shut down for a while, perhaps some of their employees would volunteer to help out at the church," Paul suggested.
"Helping others is a very effective way of keeping a person's mind off his or her own problems," said Abby.
"We will meet at the church this evening at six," Pastor Petrovsky decided. "I will ask my staff to call everyone who regularly attends services."
"And Taylor and I will contact all the student volunteers and ask them to attend the meeting," said Aunt Alyssa.
"Well, we have much to get done," Pastor Petrovsky said. "However, we do not want to forget the most important thing we can do. Let's pray. Father, we know that our lives are in Your hands and our next breath belongs to You. We ask for Your protection and guidance. Help us to shine for You in this dark hour. In Jesus' name. Amen."
"In this dark hour"? Taylor pondered. What is really going on? What are they not saying?
"Mom, is there something you're not telling me?" Taylor whispered as Pastor Petrovsky was leaving.
"Come, Taylor," Aunt Alyssa said firmly. "We'll go to my house and start calling the students. I'll pick up some bagels on the way."
(Fast-moving events are about to overtake Aunt Alyssa and Taylor. Be sure to read "Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed, Part 3.")