Teens raise funds to help family of classmate


JASPER — For members of Jasper High School’s Class of 2020, the summer began with a tragedy.

Eli Anderson, a 2020 JHS graduate, died on June 13 after an early morning accident at a private lake near Holland. News of Anderson’s death spread quickly among his classmates, prompting two — Dillon Carpenter and Grace Truesdale — to seek ways to help the family Anderson left behind.

Carpenter grew up with Anderson. The two played Little League together and were on the basketball and baseball teams at Jasper Middle School. They’d grown apart a bit during high school, Carpenter said, but they still remained friends.

The night of the accident, Carpenter, Anderson and several of their friends were at the lake, and in the weeks since Anderson’s death, the friends have leaned on each other.

“You have your better days and your worse days,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter quickly channeled his grief into a fundraiser to help Anderson’s family cover the costs of the unexpected loss. He started a GoFundMe campaign that raised $12,000 and sold bracelets and T-shirts that said “Fly High Eli.” The sale raised $2,500.

Once word of what Carpenter was doing got out, many of Anderson’s friends offered to help and the community came together to donate.

Carpenter gave the funds to Anderson’s mom, Nichole Gramelspacher, at the funeral on June 18.

Seeing the community rise to the aid of someone in need and being able to help his friend’s family helped ease his grief, Carpenter said.

“No amount of money is worth someone’s life, but it helped a little bit just to be able to do something to take a little bit of stress off them,” he said.

Truesdale found out of Anderson’s death early in the morning of June 13. She had trouble sleeping that night, she recalled, and jumped on social media around 4 a.m. to see posts from her friends and classmates with the hashtag #FlyHighEli. It wasn’t long before she found out what happened.

Although Truesdale and her friends weren’t close with Anderson, his death hit her hard.

“I think it’s just the fact that he was here one day and gone the next,” Truesdale said. “The idea that someone our age was gone was hard to deal with.”

Already feeling down due to COVID-19 and the loss of so much of her senior year, Truesdale found herself in a depression that she couldn’t shake.

About a week after Anderson’s death, Truesdale decided she had to do something. She drew up a menu of baked goods, posted it to social media so people could make orders and got to work.

For the next several weeks, Truesdale spent eight to 12 hours a day in the kitchen of her family’s Jasper home baking mini cheesecakes, peanut butter and chocolate lasagna, pies, brownies and 15 kinds of cookies. Before long, her project filled the kitchen, leaving barely enough room for everyone else in the house to make a bowl of cereal.

Looking back, Truesdale said, she realizes how much of an inconvenience she must have been and is grateful to her parents — Abby and John — for letting her take over the kitchen.

“They just let me do my thing and respected my need for space in the moment, physically and mentally,” she said. “And I truly believe that that requires a degree of patience and understanding that can only be gifted by God.”

She’s also grateful to everyone in the community who bought baked goods from her. From mid-June to the beginning of August, she raised $1,215.

On Aug. 3, Truesdale went to the Anderson’s home to give his family the money she’d raised. It was the first time she’d met Eli’s mom, but she welcomed Truesdale into her home and spent hours sharing stories about her son.

“I cried, she cried, everybody cried,” Truesdale said.

By the time Truesdale left the home, she felt like she knew Eli, and she realized she didn’t feel the depression anymore. The experience showed Truesdale the power of reaching out and helping others.

“All I’ve ever wanted was to make a difference, no matter how small, that could also inspire others to do something kind towards someone else,” she said. “God has gifted me with the ability to do just that with this fundraiser, and as far- fetched or corny as this may sound, it truly has changed my life forever, and I can only hope it moves others to act upon the same, no matter how tiny the gesture.”

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