Shortly after a fire tore through an Amish home 14 miles south of Lanesboro, killing two men, a call went out for help. In southeastern Minnesota, where the Amish and non-Amish coexist but rarely intermingle, the call was heard by everyone, said local resident Mary Bell.
Hundreds of Amish have stopped by the property since the Jan. 11 fire, but so, too, has a contractor with heavy machinery, bakers donating pies, visitors with donations of food and cash for the family, and others. It's been a comforting reminder that the Amish and non-Amish communities can rely on each other when needed, said Bell.
"There is an incredible exchange within southeastern Minnesota with the Amish. It's really quite remarkable," she said.
The fire broke out at 1 a.m., destroying one of three houses on the property. Authorities pulled two bodies from the rubble later that day, identifying the dead as Yost Hershberger, 58, and his 18-year-old son, Ben. Hershberger's wife and a second son survived, though both required hospitalization. Amish families heat and cook with wood, but fatalities are rare.
One of the fire survivors was in the hospital for four days, so the funeral was delayed. That meant feeding and caring for hundreds of visiting Amish who had come to mourn with the Hershberger family.
"It really taxed the food supplies," said Bell.
Three days after the fire, Bell was at yoga class and decided to ask others to help. Within five minutes she had collected $400. A man in the class said he would ask for more donations at a Lanesboro pub that evening, eventually pushing the total collected to $500.
Bell and others used some of the money to buy locally grown cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions and beets.
"When we unloaded the food at the Amish home we were told how much it meant to them to have our community support," said Bell. She asked what else the Amish would need. An Amish woman told her more bedding, so Bell asked friends and neighbors to help, and made a second delivery.
Elizabeth Belina of Peterson, Minn., heard about the need for food and, while shopping at a Hy-Vee store in Rochester, told the store manager about the food drive for the Amish. He donated two large hams and five turkeys. She delivered the food to the Hershberger house and immediately felt conspicuous.
"I felt very, very out of place with my teal-colored jacket," she said. "It was just a sea of black carriages and people dressed in black." She was personally thanked for the donation.
Others donated in other ways. Numerous people showed up with pies. Someone contributed a steer, and a couple of pigs, said Bell.
A local contractor arrived at the site with heavy machinery to clear away fire debris. Eli, an Amish man who spoke to Bell this week, said the Amish tore down the remains of the burned-down house immediately, but because they don't use heavy machinery, they would have had to dig through the frozen wreckage by hand to clear it up.
Hershberger's widow now is in need of furniture for an entire house and kitchen supplies, said Belina. "She has no pantry left," she said. The Amish told her that they will rebuild the house themselves but will wait until the weather warms up. The Hershbergers have two smaller houses on the property. Both sustained fire damage, but are habitable.
Bell said that when she went to the Hershberger home to deliver bedding, she walked into the house as about a dozen Amish men were finishing lunch.
"Every one of them looked at me and said 'thank you.' They really meant it," she said.
A fund for the Hershberger family is at Merchants Bank, 118 Parkway Av. N., Lanesboro, MN 55949.
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