- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

FREEMAN, S.D. (AP) - Students at a Mennonite school in southeast South Dakota are selling items from their garden to raise money for a Puerto Rican sister school severely damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Freeman Academy students are selling pumpkins and gourds with the goal of raising $1,000. Proceeds will benefit Academia Menonita Betania, a Mennonite school in rural Puerto Rico, the Yankton Press & Dakotan reported .

The school serves about 160 children but had to suspend operations last month after the hurricane slammed the island. The school needs roof replacements as well as classroom supplies, technology and equipment, said Elaine Moyer, senior director of the Mennonite Education Agency.

“MEA is collecting donations from across the church, including (Mennonite Schools Council) schools, to support their rebuilding efforts,” she said. “I can tell you that the need is very great.”

The fundraising puts a face on victims of natural disasters and fits the Mennonites’ global mission, said Nathan Epp, head of school at the Freeman Academy. Mennonites are Christian groups belonging to the Anabaptist denomination.

“We hear (about disasters) on the news and forget how real a place and situation it is for people affected by this,” Epp said.

Freeman Academy has used school activities to promote awareness of the sister school and its needs following the hurricane.

“At a home volley game, we took a free-will offering and were selling the gourds and pumpkins,” Epp said. “We had some displays showing pictures of the damage and an explanation of AMB being a Mennonite Schools Council member.”

The Puerto Rican school hasn’t held classes since the hurricane, but officials are looking at an Oct. 23 start-up date for classes. Epp said re-opening the actual school will remain a long-term project.

“We are going to be here - we are not going to close - we are going to do great things for our students,” said AMB Administrator Luis Yavier Velez Soto in a Facebook video. “Thank God for the opportunity that AMB has for the future.”

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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