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Rensselaer church helps community give back to firefighters at Town Mall fire

People from all over the community brought food and supplies to Trinity United Methodist Church on Sunday, while firefighters battled flames a few blocks away at The Town Mall.

Posted: Nov 20, 2019 5:10 PM
Updated: Nov 20, 2019 11:34 PM

RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) - The City of Rensselaer is working to put the pieces back together after a fire destroyed a shopping center downtown. The flames were put out on Sunday, but what's left of the Town Mall still smolders.

"I left the church around 1 o'clock and there was smoke at the mall," said John Hostetter, Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Rensselaer.

"I was having lunch with my wife and daughter. We came back to the church to get her car when we saw the big plume of smoke down the street," said Ron Robinson, Property Manager at TUMC. "I drove down there and got my phone out to call 911 but saw they already had some firemen down there, so I knew it was called in."

In the midst of the chaos on the day the fire started, came a ray of hope. People started taking food and water to the prosecutor's office for the first responders. But they quickly needed a second option, which they found at Trinity United Methodist Church.

"I was sitting at home watching football when I got the call from my daughter," said Robinson. "They had lost power and they needed someplace to go and they wondered if they could use our church and I said I would be there in five minutes."

It didn't take long for the community to react.

"I think it must have been Facebook but word got out quickly and people were just immediately bringing in bottled water, supplies and food," said Hostetter.

He said they had food donated from McDonalds, the local grocery store and local restaurants. The CVS down the street from the church donated nasal spray for the firefighters too. They had people working in shifts around the clock helping where they were needed. Hostetter said they were open until about 4 p.m. on Monday, before all the leftover supplies was taken to the fire station.

"I asked one of the fireman and I said is there anything we could do for you and he said my feet are cold, my socks are soaked so I said I'll be right back," said Robinson. He used to work for the Jasper County REMC and had lots of thick socks at home. He put them in a bag, got back to the church and gave them to the firefighter in need. 

"The firefighter said, man that feels great," said Robinson. "It wasn't long before they gave the rest of the socks away."

So they turned to Facebook again and people answered the call. Dannielle Warran is the Christian Ministries Director for the church. She's also an admin on their Facebook page. She said their posts asking for helped reached thousands of people.

"Literally within 5 to 10 minutes time, people were flooding the doors walking through with blankets, towels, toiletries, shirts and socks," she said. Soon the entire basement of TUMC was filled with supplies, firefighters taking breaks and community members making sure everything ran smoothly.

"It does your heart good to see how people respond," said Hostetter.

When the wind blows in the right direction in Rensselaer, you can still smell the smoke. Which is a constant reminder of what was lost, but those in this community are ready to help those who lost something get back on their feet."

"I've already seen on Facebook alone that people are working towards supporting the businesses that have lost their places, their items, the full functionality of their business," said Warran. She said people were also leaving a hopeful hashtag in the comments of posts.

"When we went to the state football championship, the big thing was #6000Strong, talking about Rensselaer and that's how many people went to the game," she said. "People were commenting about the fire and again posting #6000Strong."

While those at TUMC were happy that their facilities were able to help in a time of need, they know they aren't the only ones who would do this at a drop of a hat.

"Any other church that would have got that call would have done the same thing we did," said Robinson. "It's a very close knit community."

Investigators are still working to determine what caused the fire. The building was vacant at the time and nobody was injured.

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