CHICAGO -- When Washington, Ill., mayor Gary Manier was reached by phone Wednesday night, he had no idea of the $100,000 personal commitment made by Jim and Andrea Thome and the Thome family to help rebuild a city devastated by tornadoes on Nov. 17.
Manier was overwhelmed by the generous act from one of the game's greatest sluggers and greatest people, who also was born and raised 15 miles from Washington in Peoria, Ill., in addition to the help presented by the White Sox and three more of Thome's former teams.
"I'm so thankful for a Central Illinois guy thinking about us," said Manier of Thome, who currently serves as special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "You don't really know what to say."
Thome toured the devastation last Wednesday in Washington, where his brother Randy and his family reside. Thome was joined by Manier and former NBA player Doug Lee, who hails from Washington as well. Manier said that 1,086 homes were damaged and 532 were destroyed.
The visit understandably had a profound effect on Thome.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life. The devastation literally took my breath away," said Thome in a statement from a White Sox release Wednesday, which also announced the team's help in the tornado relief efforts.
"I knew at that moment that Andrea and I would do whatever we could to help the people of Washington, so near to where I grew up, and home to my brother Randy and his family," Thome added in the statement. "We are so grateful that my former teams stepped up to join us in our efforts to help."
Cleveland, Minnesota and Philadelphia will join the White Sox as those former Thome teams contributing financially to the Thome family donation. The White Sox announced the team will organize a youth-and-athletics-focused event in Washington in the spring of 2014 in support of the Thome family efforts. Details of the event, which will involve the White Sox Volunteer Corps and the Chicago Bulls/Sox Academy, will be announced closer to the spring.
"We know few people with more compassion and bigger hearts than Jim and Andrea Thome, and we are honored to stand with them as members of the White Sox and baseball family," said White Sox senior director of community relations/executive director of Chicago White Sox Charities Christine O'Reilly in a statement. "When Jim and Andrea told the White Sox about their family's plans to help those affected by the destructive tornadoes that ravaged central Illinois, we immediately focused our efforts on helping make a difference in Washington."
On Wednesday, Chicago Blackhawks president & CEO John McDonough joined Manier, Gov. Pat Quinn and congressman Aaron Schock to host a Thanksgiving luncheon for victims of the recent tornadoes and their families along with thanking first-responders and the tireless volunteers. Chicago Blackhawks Charities donated $200,000 to the Washington Tornado Relief Fund.
During these past 10 days, Manier has wondered why the people of Chicago are so interested in his city -- not that he minds, of course. The response he received was that most people who live in Chicago once lived in "small-town America" themselves.
"They feel the pain. They care and pay attention," said Manier, who is in his 13th year as Washington mayor. "It's incredible.
"Being from Central Illinois, I always thought I-80 is the dividing line and nobody North cares. There is no dividing line. I've learned a lot these 10 days. I'm just taken aback by all of this."
To learn more about the Thome family and White Sox relief efforts, visit whitesox.com/Community or to join the White Sox Volunteer Corps, visit whitesox.com/VolunteerCorps. To donate directly to help Washington, checks can be mailed to Morton Community Bank, c/o the city of Washington Tornado Relief Fund, 721 West Jackson Street, Morton IL 61550.
Every donation makes a difference, as Manier expressed in his message of thanks Wednesday to the White Sox and to Thome and his family for their assistance.
"He's just as solid and down to Earth as you'd ever want to meet," said Manier of Thome, while calling the White Sox assistance "very touching." "Let Andrea and Jim know how appreciative the city of Washington is for this gracious gift."