church sign-Thanks for water-FBphoto-Leslie Jennings YoungI’ve got an incredible story for you that starts with a high school senior who heard about the toxic chemical spill that poisoned the tap water for more than 300,000 people in West Virginia, and wanted to help.

Angelina Sarro and her father, Frank, remembered the generosity of people who drove to their neighborhood of East Rockaway, New York after Superstorm Sandy bringing trucks loaded with water and food. Now they wanted to pay that kindness forward.

On January 12, she texted her teacher, Don Poland, to ask about gathering donations of water. Within days, local families had delivered 227 cases — and more than 100 gallons — of bottled water. 15 students from East Rockaway High School volunteered to load it all into Frank’s truck. All they needed was a specific drop-off point somewhere in the effected area of Charleston.

Clendenin (almost Heaven), West Virginia

The water fountains were still closed in the church gym when Pastor Charles LaRue called for a board meeting January 15 to discuss the upcoming basketball games scheduled for Saturday. A large crowd of several hundred people would descend on the Clendenin Church of the Nazarene for the weekly community K-6 league games.

The town, 20 miles north of Charleston, was in a “really bad situation” with their water supply. Originally told not to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing after the chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, leaked into the Elk River January 9, Clendenin had still not been given the green light to restart their water usage, unlike other towns.

Normally, the church sells water at concession stands during sporting events to cover the facility costs, but because the community was still reeling from more than a week without H2O, the Board voted to give away all the bottled water they had on hand.

“How can we sell water when people are without it?” LaRue said in a phone interview with the Good News Network. “The tap water was not something we wanted to let people drink.”

Even after Clendenin residents were told on Friday that it was safe, and they flushed the water system at the church, the chemical still lingered, making the water smell like licorice.

He told the board, “God has a way of returning the blessing when we put people first.”

Pay It Forward (Again)

Don Poland started the Facebook group in May of 2013 called Pay It Forward East Rockaway, to help people affected by the deadly tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Poland had already been teaching his students how to be generous, even screening in his classroom the movie “Pay It Forward”.

water stacked in cases-FBphotoSo it was no surprise that he volunteered to help drive the relief van loaded with water to West Virginia. The trio of Angelina, her dad, and Don covered 537 miles in twelve hours, traveling through a couple snowstorms, to arrive in the Charleston metro area on Sunday morning, the 19th.

They’d heard that Clendenin was the last locale to be given the go-ahead to use their water again. Maybe it was the street sign, Elk River Rd, that prompted them to exit the highway at exactly the intersection that led to LaRue’s church. They told him later they were compelled to stop at his building.

“They passed 4 or 5 other churches,” Pastor LaRue said with amazement. “It isn’t by coincidence that they stopped by my church first: We just gave away several cases of water instead of selling it, believing God would bless us for it.”

A Full Circle Sunday Morning

LaRue was in the sanctuary for morning prayer and getting things ready for his service when a man came in and told him that he and two others were from East Rockaway, New York. They had driven all night with a van full of drinking water for the people of West Virginia. The vehicle was so heavy, it squatted down in the back.

It was also carrying greetings for neighbors far away to lighten their load. 100 homemade cards from school kids were decorated with sayings like, “East Rockaway’s got your back!” LaRue and his wife distributed them to the congregation and hung some on the wall. (Poland and the East Rockaway Facebook group also sent hand-crafted cards to the people of Moore, Oklahoma, including residents like Ange Humes, who sill has hers and says it meant more then anyone could know.)

The Pastor marveled at the blessing which multiplied after they chose to give away a few armfuls of water bottles as charity in the gym the day before. “Talk about a hundred-fold!”

He ruminated that teenagers from his congregation back in 2005 raised money so they could go and help the residents devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Now, teenagers from New York came to aid them in their time of need.

“You couldn’t imagine this… you couldn’t make it up in your wildest dreams,” he repeated.

“We felt led to give our water away instead of profiting from it, and they felt led to stop by my church first.”

“Everyone went home after church that Sunday with plenty of drinking water and the board will probably be able to give away water during the entire season of Upward Basketball,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Don, who was driving as they pulled up, even turned out to be a school basketball coach,” he told GNN.

“That isn’t a coincidence, that is a God thing!” he wrote on Facebook. “Our efforts in giving were so much smaller than what He gave back to us through these people.”

cards for West Virginia-FBphoto

Photos courtesy of Pay it Forward East Rockaway Facebook Page


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