From Columbia to West: Texas student helps her home community

Klemenok asked for donations on Facebook and is planning a bake sale.

Freshman Mary Klemenok was about to go to bed when she received bad news.

Around 11 p.m. on April 17, Klemenok was almost ready to log out of Twitter for the night when a flurry of "#prayforwest" tweets flooded her feed. They came from her friends back in Texas, who were reacting to news of a fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, a small town 30 minutes north of Klemenok's hometown of Waco. The Associated Press reported the blast killed 14, injured hundreds and destroyed more than 150 buildings.

"My friends from home were tweeting about it," Klemenok said. "It was a couple of hours after it happened. It happened around 7 (p.m.) I saw it around 11, and I was up until 2 (a.m.)"

Wanting to help West despite being far from home, Klemenok texted her mother around 1 a.m., urging her to donate the clothes she would normally save for Goodwill to the people of West whose homes were destroyed.

"I said 'Donate everything,'" Klemenok said. "'Donate my pillows, donate my blankets.' These people lost everything."

Although West is 18 miles from Klemenok's home, she has plenty of ties to the town. She spent her summers at West's pool, watched Waco High play football against West High and stopped at Czech Stop — West's interstate truck stop famous for its homemade kolaches, a Czech baked good — whenever her family made trips to Dallas.

"Me and my mom always used to go to this one pool that the family of my friend who lives in West owns, so I thought about that," Klemenok said. "I was like, 'Wow, that's completely going to be gone.' There were already pictures being posted from local news stations, and it was so sad. I mean, I cried as soon as I looked at the pictures."

Hundreds of buildings were leveled by the blast, but most of Klemenok's friends from West were safe. However, one of her friends' father, a firefighter from Dallas, died in the blaze at the site of the explosion. He was off-duty when he received news of the explosion but rushed to assist West's volunteer firefighters.

Klemenok said it was hard to get in contact with her friends that night because many dropped everything to volunteer in West.

"So many people stopped everything they were doing just to go out there and help," Klemenok said. "A lot of houses were damaged, and the town is still being cleaned up. Doors were blown off and windows were broken from the smoke and the explosion, which they said could be felt from 50 miles away."

Initial reports suggested fatalities from the explosion could be as high as 60 or 70 people. Fourteen deaths have been confirmed, but emergency personnel are still performing rescue and recovery in the rubble.

"I know they're still actually finding bodies, which is really scary and sad," Klemenok said. "The count went down as the days went by because more people were being found in serious condition (rather) than dead. It's good that the count is going down, but it's sad that people are still missing."

After asking her mother to donate her extra items, Klemenok turned her attention to MU. She figured students would be weeding their closets and discarding their bedding as they begin to pack up for the year, so she posted on Facebook to ask for donations. The response, she said, was overwhelming.

"I was thinking that I need to do what I can even though I'm up here," Klemenok said. "So many people contacted me about donating. I remember I posted on the Facebook page, logged off and a little bit later logged backed on. I had so may messages from people wanting to donate, and I find that so comforting."

The outpouring of support from around the country left West overwhelmed with donations of clothing and other items, Klemenok said. Instead of collecting physical donations from MU students, Klemenok is now planning to hold a bake sale to raise money for the town. She said she has been encouraged by the support she's received from MU so far.

"No matter where people are, when someone is going through something, they're willing to help no matter what," Klemenok said. "It was really comforting to see that, especially being so far from home."

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