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LaGrange ramps up to help La Grange

The call to offer help came out of left field.

Pastor Jonathan Smith in La Grange, Texas, is heading up the recovery effort in that town and had no idea that LaGrange, Ind., existed. “And probably vice-versa,” he said.

But a few days after Hurricane Harvey left the small Texas town under water, he got a call from LaGrange, Ind., offering assistance. “It represents the best of what America is about,” he said Thursday morning while on layover in Minneapolis. “We care about one another and when we see someone is suffering, we reach out to them.”

That hand reaching out to help started in Lakeland Middle School, with counselor Joann Gillespie and teacher Lauren Harris. Gillespie saw the devastation being reported and, like many, wanted to help but wanted to do more than donating to the area in general. “We talked about it and thought to adopt a school,” she said. They got approval from Superintendent Dr. Eva Merkel and began looking for a school. “Then we came across La Grange, Texas, that had been hit.” The town sits along the Colorado River about 90 miles northwest of Houston.

As Harvey raged, it dropped a deluge onto the town, which caused the river through town to rise to 54 ft., 30 ft. above flood stage. That left the 351 homes destroyed and countless others heavily damaged.

“I looked up the town and found it had similar demographics,” Gillespie added. It was roughly the same size, rural, and is the county seat. Gillespie and Harris contacted the town to reach out to the school, and were put in touch with Smith, whose wife also works in a school. That conversation turned it into an effort to help the whole community.

The idea that started in the middle school soon caught on at the other schools in the corporation, which are now working on fundraisers. The high school and middle school will have a walk to raise money this Friday from 2-3 p.m. on the high school track.

At Friday’s high school football game, donations will be taken and a lemonade stand will also be set up, with all proceeds going to Texas. A moment of silence will also be held.

And Smith will be here to watch it.

Smith was traveling from Texas to Indiana, and was expected to arrive Thursday evening. On Friday, he will visit Lakeland schools to talk to the students who are banding together to help his town. “The momentum to help has built up and I want to come up now to visit the schools,” Smith said. “I want to put a face to this and to tell the stories of what happened.” He mentioned one student at the junior high school in La Grange who was back for the second day of school (with the start delayed by the hurricane), who said she didn’t want to live there. “Going to school every day, she saw everything that only reminded her of what she had been through,” Smith said.

He told of deaf friends who almost didn’t make it out because they didn’t hear police pounding on their door to warn them in the middle of the night. Fortunately, a neighbor made sure that they got out.

“A fifth grader lost all of her possessions,” Smith said. “They had just moved into a new house three months ago and she was so excited about it.”

Volunteers from Texas have helped the town with cleaning up, stripping some homes down to the studs, as they assess what can be salvaged. Right now, the immediate need is financial. “Most people want to rebuild there,” he stated.

At the same time, a new friendship between two towns, separated by over 1,200 miles, is being built and will likely last far beyond the rebuilding effort.

For more information on how to help, go to lgrelief. com or www.facebook.com/ lg4lg/.