The Friday following an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 14 people and injured more than 160, students and educators with the Tomball FFA jumped to action. Through a series of fundraisers and gift card drives, the group managed to raise approximately $7,500 to aid the victims in their recovery.
"It was an event that affected the entire state," said Garrett Ware, Tomball FFA member who is slated to be the organization's president next year. "We felt especially close to the people there because there are so many of us who have friends and family in West."
The effort started with a gift card drive on April 19 focused on places like Lowe's, Home Depot and Walmart, said Jessica Reeves, an agriscience instructor with Tomball FFA. After speaking with people in West, it became clear that they were most in need of supplies and tools to help with the rebuilding process, she said. Approximately 150 buildings were damaged, including many homes and three of West's four schools.
The fundraising effort took on a whole new scope, however, when Ware came up with an idea to get the Tomball community more involved.
"I thought, why can't we just work something out with Lowe's where we can set up a table in front of the Tomball store and ask people for donations there?" he said. "A fundraiser at our school will only raise so much money because students can only donate so much. Why not get the whole community involved?"
Ware, a junior at Tomball High School, pitched his idea to the rest of the Tomball FFA. On April 21—just two days later—the table was up at Lowe's and ready to go.
"The kids stood outside Lowe's for five hours and collected $2,600 just that one day," Reeves said. "We were so successful that we decided to continue the drive through Friday of last week."
Several other school organizations got involved over the course of the week, including the Tomball High School student council and Red Cross Club. Tomball Memorial High School also contributed $1,000 to the cause, Reeves said.
"The whole thing was really kind of put together at the last minute," Reeves said. "We didn't advertise that much. I sent an email out to teachers at the high school and to the FFA Booster Club. Through teachers and parents and donors outside of Lowe's we managed to raise around $7,500 over the course of seven days."
Ware said he was both impressed and inspired by how the Tomball community responded to the West disaster.
"What we thought was just going to be a Tomball FFA gift card drive turned into a big community-wide event," he said. "I just hope the money we raised helps the families rebuild their homes and get back on their feet."