Strangers’ kindness finds Camp Sabra group
Photo: Courtesy Hannah Gaswirth
La Veta United Methodist Church of La Veta, Colorado, offered firsthand lessons of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests. 

By Jordan Palmer
St. Louis Jewish Light

(ST. LOUIS) —You never know where you’ll find kindness.

For a group of 15-year-olds and their chaperones from Camp Sabra, kindness found them on their last day of a two-week adventure touring Colorado, heading east toward Missouri, when their chartered bus broke down outside La Veta, Colorado. The group of 34 campers included six from Dallas: Olivia Cohen, Hannah Gaswirth, Alex Ladin, Eva Newburger, Eleanor Patel and Sam Rubin.

Unlike a car, when a charter bus breaks down, it’s a bit more complicated to get a tow truck out to haul it in, much less a replacement bus. The group waited for eight hours on the highway, waiting to hear from the charter company, when two strangers stopped by. 

“The two people pulled up to ask if we needed help,” said Scott Stern, a volunteer chaperoning the group. “We of course said yes, and within two hours we were joined and escorted by a minister and dozens of members of a small church called La Veta United Methodist.” The church members drove everyone in the group back to town.

“We spent two days living in their basement and sleeping in their pews,” said Stern as the group waited for the replacement bus to come and pick them up.

As the group waited, the church minister, Janine Rose, wrote her Sunday sermon about the blessings of helping people in need, and on Sunday night, the church cooked an entire barbecue for the group.

“This town of 800 took our kids in. They fed them, gave them showers and the minister even wrote her sermon about them,” said Staci Rubin, whose son Sam was part of the group known as Masada. “This group of Jewish kids was embraced by a community that didn’t even know them, teaching us all that kindness does exist. I hope we’ll all keep spreading that message.”

The replacement bus finally arrived on Monday, and the entire group was back in camp, safe and sound, by Monday night.

“Imagine the visual: 34 Jewish 15-year-olds sheltering in the La Veta United Methodist Church while we literally and figuratively waited for our exodus from Colorado back to St. Louis,” said Stern. “All in all, it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.”

Sam Rubin was in his sixth year at Camp Sabra. 

“We just thought we were stopping for lunch but it turned out our counselors knew something more was wrong. We had lunch and they spent a long time, what turned into many hours, calling bus companies to find us a ride,” said Sam, who had long looked forward to the trip, a rite of passage for the oldest camping group.  

“It was really pretty and they made us feel very comfortable. The girls slept downstairs and the boys slept in the pews,” said Sam, who had only ever been in a church for Boy Scout meetings. “They were the nicest strangers I’ve ever met and I really appreciate them all helping us out.”

The campers went shopping for some of their meals and the church families provided others. Once the kids returned to camp, they sent thank-you notes to those who had helped them and many families are reported to have, in gratitude, sent donations to the church.

“We are so grateful to the people of La Veta; it was really incredible how they reached out to us and were so kind. I’m kind of happy, no disrespect, that the bus broke because we made so many extra memories,” said Hannah Gaswirth, a seven-year Camp Sabra camper. She added that because the group had been road-tripping, they all had plenty of sleeping gear to be comfortable. After two weeks of cooking their own meals, the dinner cooked by the church families was more than welcome. 

“They invited us to a monster truck mudfest, they bought us all ice cream and they fed us,” said Gaswirth. “They didn’t know us the day before, but they treated us so well.”

Reprinted with permission from the St. Louis Jewish Light. Deb Silverthorn contributed to this story. 

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