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LaGrange reaches out to help Texas hurricane victims

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”

So said Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca, and the sentiment holds true today as a bond is being formed between two towns that share the name of LaGrange.

An idea that started in Lakeland Middle School quickly spread to where the community of LaGrange, Ind., has been working to raise money and show support for its new sister city of La Grange, Texas, one of many towns that suffered major damage in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in late August.

Pastor Jonathan Smith from the La Grange First Baptist Church traveled to Indiana last Friday to spend a whirlwind day visiting Lakeland and Prairie Heights schools, and addressing the crowd at Friday night’s Lakeland football game. Smith talked to students throughout the day to convey to them the experience that his town went through, and the challenges that lie ahead.

“It’s an odd thing,” he said earlier in the day, “You drive around parts and not know a flood happened. And then, two minutes later, you are in an area with all of this damage.”

Among the damage was an entire mobile home park wiped out. “Sadly, the mobile homes will all be carried off,” Smith said, leaving those families needing a new place to live.

Estimates are, the town will be working for the next three to four years to fully recover.

And while the physical damage is being addressed, Smith noted that a big concern is the emotional healing. “As a pastor, I’m concerned with the emotional and spiritual health of the community,” he said. “La Grange will come back, due to the hard work of these incredible small-town people. And we are thrilled to have LaGrange help us.”

It was incredible, he added, to find out that a town called LaGrange, whose residents don’t know La Grange, Texas, reached out to them to help. “Our people have been shocked that a community in Indiana would reach out to us,” Smith stated. “This is literally helping families there recover emotionally. To know that others care in this way, and to reach out this way, is huge.”

Lakeland Middle School Counselor Joanne Gillespie and teacher Lauren Harris were preparing to get the fundraiser kicked off at Friday’s football game, but found that the effort had quickly taken on a life of its own. They had set a goal of $20,000 and had raised that before the game even started, thanks to the participation of all of the schools in the district, along with Prairie Heights schools. “Support is coming from every angle,” Gillespie said.

By the end of the weekend, the community had raised $30,000 to go to La Grange, Texas.

The stories of the devastation seemed to strike a real cord with Lakeland students. Gillespie told of one student who heard about the destruction of the mobile home park, so took it upon himself to go door to door – through the mobile home park he lives in – to collect money.

Harris and Gillespie both marvel at the speed at which this has grown. “The idea came around last Monday and on Tuesday we contacted La Grange, Texas. By Friday, we were saying ‘we’re going down there.’ We want to meet these people,” Gillespie said.

“It would be awesome to go,” Harris agreed. “To see first-hand what they’re going through.”

All of the money being raised will be sent to the La Grange area ministerial association, who will then forward that on to the Fayette County long-term disaster relief team, with Smith a part of both organizations. “There are no administrative costs,” Smith said. “Every penny will go to helping.”

The ties between the communities are becoming stronger each day, helped by Smith’s visit. “When it’s face-to-face, there’s trust,” he noted. And he’ll return in two weeks to speak with area churches, as well as catch up with Gillespie, Harris, and a lot of other new friends.