The day after an explosion’s deadly shockwave leveled part of West, neighboring Waco and surrounding communities responded with a wave of compassion, donations and offers of help that quickly filled immediate needs for blood, water and some emergency supplies.
A day marked by innumerable offers of aid even saw a $100 pizza order from a Massachusetts surgeon phoned in for Waco surgeons in Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center’s emergency room.
Response from volunteers and donors was such that lists of needed supplies and services fluctuated throughout the day as service providers strained to coordinate offered help with necessary assistance. By day’s end, organizers were recommending gifts of cash as a flexible way to meet needs rather than donated items that might pile up unused at aid centers.
Waco’s three major foundations created one such financial assistance fund with the Rapoport Foundation contributing $20,000 as an initial gift.
By the time Carter BloodCare Center opened at 9 a.m., the line of donors already stretched, 200 strong, around the building’s corner. Within hours, Carter BloodCare officials recommended possible donors make appointments for the weeks ahead to give blood to avoid diminishing the summer’s normally low blood stocks.
At Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, 285 doctors and health care workers showed up last night to volunteer their services, CEO Glenn Robinson said.
Two of those who showed up at the hospital, McLennan Community College EMT technician students Alyssa Medina and Jessica Kail, were in line hours later to give blood.
Churches in the West area and Waco offered space for West families whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the blast. Local businesses and companies made services available.
Waco Independent School District offered to loan furniture to Connally Independent School District, which will receive West students displaced when their schools were damaged in the blast.
Restaurants and coffee shops supplied emergency workers and volunteers with free food, coffee and water.
One offer of food came from Massachusetts General Hospital, said Mary Duty, who owns and operates Poppa Rollo’s Pizza with her husband Roland.
Duty posted on her Facebook page that a Massachusetts General Hospital surgeon ordered six large pizzas for the surgeons in the Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center emergency room with the note “Thanks for all your hard work: one member of the ER family.”
Stream of supplies
A steady stream of physical supplies slowly accumulated at the Extraco Events Center’s General Exhibit Building, one of several designated collection points, Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo CEO Wes Allison said.
Extraco Events Center employees fielded calls from those wanting to help, reading from a list of needed materials that shifted as the day went on. A need for cellphone chargers replaced a call for bottled water.
Diapers for both infants and senior citizens, personal toiletries, new blankets and pillowcases were suggested more than emergency supplies as a focus shifted from immediate to the longer-term needs of displaced families.
Many of those who stopped by the center with donations stayed to help sort donated items and trucks ferried loads of items from the Extraco Center to Red Cross staging areas.
Richard Karr Motors collected items for West relief and by late afternoon had sent a GMC Cargo Van, a GMC Yukon Excel, GMC Acadia and a GMC Crew Cab pickup filled to capacity with supplies to West, general manager Richard Gough said.
“It’s really been inspiring for us to see so many people give totally from the heart and totally without reservation. I think we’re going to continue to take items to West as long as people are giving them,” he said.
Relief organizers were advising those wishing to help with West aid give cash or gift cards as a more flexible assistance and several financial aid accounts were set up during the day.
GENCO Federal Credit Union and its branches in McLennan County created an emergency account in the Red Cross’ name, director of marketing Kelley Perkins said. People can make cash contributions, account transfers or credit card payments to the account at GENCO branches.
Perkins said people had filled four collection boxes at the branches with items on Thursday.
“It was really great to see that come in,” she said of contributors’ response. “It’s definitely rejuvenated me. We live in such a defensive time these days. It’s good to see people helping each other.”
Waco’s three foundations — the Cooper, Rapoport and Waco foundations — created The West, Texas Disaster Relief Efforts Fund, which Waco Foundation will house.
Contributions to the fund will be tax-exempt. The Rapoport Foundation gave a lead gift of $20,000.
“This is what makes our country so great,” Rapoport Foundation executive director Tom Stanton said.
“The fundamental heart of this nation is awfully good.”
The disaster in West transformed Thursday’s Diadeloso, Baylor University’s annual play day, into a day of support, aid and help, in addition to the usual fun.
Within hours of the news of the explosion, Baylor administrators led by Baylor President Ken Starr and Diadeloso organizers revamped the day’s schedule.
They moved an outdoor concert finale of Fort Worth band Green River Ordinance and national alt-rock act Five For Fighting from Fountain Mall to the Ferrell Center and turned the free concert into a free-admission benefit.
Five For Fighting, interestingly, became well known for its 2001 song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” in the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Shortly before Fort Worth rock band Green River Ordinance took the Ferrell Center stage, about 50 Baylor students were busy outside loading trucks for the Waco social agency Caritas with donations of clothing, stacks of toilet paper, bags of toiletries, food and other items. Baylor freshman and Alpha Phi Omega member Charlotte Malone, 18, paused from unloading an SUV with bags of contributions to explain.
“Tragedies happen and you need to adjust,” she said. “Part of being a Christian school is to respond. Everyone is responding fantastically.”
Inside, about 1,000 students filled half of the main floor seats while hundreds of others trickled into upper level seating. Rosemary Townsend, director of community partnership, carried a basket filled with red and black-ribboned lapel pins, in West High School colors, for those at the concert wanting to show their support.
Baylor staffers and volunteers, 10 to each entrance, held buckets for concertgoers to contribute cash.
As Green River Ordinance began cranking up the volume on the evening’s live music, Ashley Walker, 20, said her fellow students took the day’s changes in stride.
“It was different, but it brought out the best in the Baylor community,” she said.
Musicians are often the first contacted when community help is needed and Central Texas musicians were quick to sign on with their time and music to help the cause.
Bands offer to play
Waco musician Brian Brown, lead singer with Sloppy Joe and well-connected with other Waco performers, found an initial suggestion of a musicians’ benefit on Facebook balloon into a two-day affair next weekend at The Melody Ranch, with more than two dozen local bands offering to play.
Plans are still in the process, he said, but the West First Concert, a play on West’s annual WestFest, will be held April 27 and 28. The Nolan Pick Band agreed to give up their April 27 gig there for the event and Brown was swamped with musicians’ offers of aid.
“You probably couldn’t name a band that hasn’t called to help today,” he said.
Even Texas icon Willie Nelson announced on his Twitter feed his intent to turn his April 28 concert at The New Backyard in Austin into a West benefit.
Carl Finch, leader of Denton world music band Brave Combo, long a Westfest mainstay, said his band was looking at multiple shows to help West.
“I’ve talked to people today about at least three benefits, maybe something in Denton, something near West and maybe in Dallas. I think this is just the beginning,” he said late Thursday.
“West is obviously a really, really important community to us. We’ve played Westfest for every year since 1979,” he said. “We are ready and willing and able (to help) and just letting the dust settle.”