Brazos Valley sends home-baked love to West

By Mary P. Walker

Senior Correspondent

Terri Duhon of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station loves everything about pie. She bakes them, sells them, donates them, teaches how-to classes, and promotes pies on her Facebook page, The Pie Belle. When she learned of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Duhon wanted to respond with the personal care that goes into baking an apple pie.

Her inspiration came from Beth Howard, a famous baker, author and blogger in the pie-loving community. In response to the Newtown, Conn. shootings, Howard traveled from her home in Iowa, collecting donations and triggering a massive pie baking effort to bring pies to those grieving. The citizens enjoyed the pies and were touched by the gesture of love.

Duhon and a group of volunteers wanted to do the same for West. Technology allowed them to organize quickly. On April 18, the day after the tragedy, she sent a text message to four women. This call for help echoed within the parish and the local Catholic community. Lauren Gulde, a graphic designer, created a Facebook page, Pies for West, rallying volunteers. Cecelia Wagner lined up babysitters so that women with young children could join the baking effort.

Before the baking could begin, the ingredients had to be assembled. The parish covered the expenses, and the group was able to get more than 300 apples at a wholesale price. Also needed were 50 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of sugar and 12 pounds of butter and shortening.

The baking effort began at 8:30 a.m. on April 19 in the kitchen of the parish hall. Throughout the day, Gulde and participants updated the Facebook page with photos of the baking activity and reminders that volunteers were welcome to stop by and help.

One of the followers of these Facebook postings was Howard herself. "I was very moved to hear that our Newtown pie efforts inspired the College Station group. It was impressive how they acted so quickly. It was heartwarming to see their photos posted throughout the baking process, a reminder of the joy that can be found in coming together, even in a somber time, to create something so good," Howard said.

Throughout the day, approximately 20 women stopped by to help, some spending a few hours, others staying for most of the day. In addition to knowing that they were bringing comfort to others, the bakers also enjoyed the fellowship they shared in the kitchen. By 9:30 p.m., 65 apple pies, made from scratch, were boxed and ready.

Baking the pies was just the first step in the process –– the fragile treats had to be delivered to West, about 100 miles away. While the women of St. Thomas Aquinas were busy making pies, the Iola Volunteer Fire Department was also busy with their own relief effort. The night after the explosion, Fire Chief Chris Roig could not sleep. He, too, wanted to do something to help. The fire department decided to collect food, clothing and blankets from the community and take them to West on Saturday morning.

When Duhon learned of this effort, she called Chief Roig to see if they would be able to include the pies in their delivery. The department enthusiastically agreed to transport the freshly baked cargo. On Saturday morning, the pies were loaded into the bed of a firefighter’s pickup truck, which joined a caravan of three fire trucks, one pulling a trailer of supplies, for the trip to West.

The trip itself was a moving experience for the firefighters. A truck slowed down to the speed of the caravan and a female passenger rolled down her window, pointed and mouthed the words "thank you" to those making the trip. Chief Roig explained that fire fighters rarely receive thanks for their work, and they were touched that their efforts were appreciated. They were also aware that many of the victims in West were first responders. The tragedy was a reminder of their own vulnerability, and their relief efforts honored the sacrifice of those who had died.

When the caravan arrived at West, the pies were delivered to a building that was set up as a cafeteria for those needing food. The people of West gratefully accepted the pies and the other food and supplies.

"They were surprised that somebody would take the time to make that many pies. It really shocked them," Chief Roig said.

"We hoped that they would feel a little loved and cared for when they ate something homemade," Duhon said. Not only were the pies delicious, their lattice crusts featured hearts, a symbol of care and solidarity.

While happy that they could bring a little comfort, all involved in the pie project recognize that the people of West continue to face many challenges.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims. It’s not over. There are still people who are displaced, and need help and assistance," Chief Roig said.

For more information on the need for help in West, see the Bishop’s Interview on Page 16.

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