A scout picks up some items to put into a "crisis kit" for people in emergencies. Credit: Nina Mahaleris | Penobscot Times

OLD TOWN, Maine — When a fire ripped through several downtown buildings earlier this year, the destruction affected more than just the people whose homes burned down or the business owners who lost their investments.

It also touched the members of Boy Scout Troop 76, who were just starting to learn about emergency preparedness when the fire broke out. Ironically, the troop members found themselves ill-prepared to handle the devastating aftermath.

That’s when it occurred to Troop Leader Chris Kelly to introduce a hands-on activity to teach the boys about emergency preparedness by collecting donations for people who survive fires or natural disasters.

A member of the Bangor Church of the Nazarene, Kelly had helped out with other disaster relief initiatives but this was the first time he planned to involve the Boy Scouts in the church’s mission.

For the boys, it was a no-brainer, Kelly explained. A lot of kids in the troop wanted to help because they were affected by the fire, too, he said. Many of the boys had relationships with people in the community who had lost their homes or businesses, which inspired them to get behind the cause.

“It gives them a sense of purpose [to give back]” Kelly said.

Still, he wanted them to see the bigger picture beyond Old Town. He wanted them to understand how it might feel to live through a natural disaster and to imagine losing everything they own.

More importantly, Kelly wanted them to see why it’s important to help others whenever possible.

“The reality is that there’s a lot of things these boys can do,” he said. For several months, the scouts have collected donations from the community to create “Crisis Kits” which will help people in emergency situations.

Last week, the troop gathered at its usual meeting house — a small log cabin tucked in the woods behind the United Methodist Church on Stillwater Avenue — and put together the kits.

In an assembly line fashion, the boys worked on one kit at a time, packing up essentials like toothbrushes, hand towels and even tiny stuffed animals for children to snuggle with. Kelly said the kits include the toys to help kids cope during emergency situations.

Troop leaders came prepared with dozens of empty boxes and bags to package up all the kits and had the boys get to work. Within 30 minutes, each and every bag was filled.

The troop put together about 80 kits for the Nazarene Church to distribute all over the Penobscot region and beyond. Some of the kits may even be sent to other parts of the world. They’ll go wherever they’re needed, Kelly explained.

However, the church and the troop will each keep some kits on hand for people affected by disaster right at home. At the end of the evening, troop leaders handed out treats for the Scouts and gathered them together for a final word.

“I am very, very impressed,” he told the boys. “Remember why we’re doing this and who it’ll benefit.”