Approximately 2,000 people attended the #WLSStrong Appreciation Luncheon on Saturday, March 11, at the Champaign County Fairgrounds to say “thank you” to the West Liberty-Salem staff and first responders for their bravery and efforts to keep students and staff safe on Jan. 20, the day a WL-S student took a gun into the school and injured two students.
That Friday was a day filled with waiting, not knowing, wanting to find out what was happening and wondering whether students and staff were safe. The West Liberty-Salem community waited and prayed.
First responders arrived to tend the wounded, while families traveled to Lions Park where they waited to pick up their children. Each school bus that carried students to the park was escorted by two cruisers. Parents anxiously waiting finally hugged their children.
“The best part of living in a small community – everybody chipped in to do what needed to be done,” said Father Tim West, chaplain of area fire departments and law enforcement agencies.
The community received local support as well as support from far away. People prayed. Facebook was flooded with a sea of orange and black. Signs with orange and black popped up in numerous communities. Several businesses gave away free food and drinks.
The Appreciation Luncheon, sponsored by #WLSStrong, was a time for everyone to say thank you to school staff, first responders and others who assisted students, school and community that day. It also was a time to gather for a good time, to eat and to play games.
Attendees ate pizza, sandwiches, green beans, slaw and desserts. A Kids Zone had a variety of activities, including games, crafts, face painting and a photo booth. There was a chance to get a massage, buy a T-shirt, participate in a silent auction, buy a raffle ticket or a chance in the 50/50 drawing. All monies raised went to event sponsor WLSStrong’s fundraising committee.
“Today was a good day,” said Seth Merriman, committee chair. “The community came together to show love and support for our school staff and the first responders. It’s been a true blessing to be a part of a small town or small community and see it turn into a family that is all in to show love, support and compassion to the people who kept our kids safe and will continue to do so in the future.
“The staff of our school are amazing,” Merriman said. “They all love our kids and want what is best for them and it shows every time I see them interact with our kids. Today was a blessing to have the opportunity to let them see we love them as well.
“I think every day we should let these people know that we care for the staff members and all our first responders,” he added. “They are very loved from the heart and I hope they all know that. Thank you to everyone who came out today and to all who helped make this possible. It truly showed the compassion that our ‘family’ has to give.”
Tami Wenger is a regular contributor to this newspaper.