ELKHART — Supporters of a 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with cancer this past summer have been painting Elkhart County purple.
From lights illuminating the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart and the courthouse in Goshen to T-shirts worn by thousands of people, the color purple has become a visual reminder of the community’s support for Sarah Crane and her family. Crane has been fighting stage four colon cancer since July, and in September, her health took a turn for the worse when the cancer spread to her other organs.
“She is still hopeful,” said Sherry Auker, a family friend who works with Crane’s mother at Cleveland Elementary School. “She is such a strong gal.”
As of Wednesday, Oct. 2, roughly 3,500 Sarah Strong shirts in Crane’s favorite color had been sold to support the Elkhart Memorial High School student.
“This has been so neat to see just because of the fact that when Sarah’s sister, Kylee, and I first started the shirts, we thought we were just going to sell 100 to friends and family,” Auker said. “No way did we ever believe that we would be up to 3,500 shirts and still going, and you know what? The community, family members and friends have all stepped up. I guess I’ve never seen the community rally around a person like they’re rallying around Sarah.”
The #SarahStrong Facebook page has topped 5,000 followers, and fundraising for the Crane family has grown so rapidly that Auker can no longer handle it by herself. Starting Thursday, Oct. 3, shirts, hoodies and bracelets will be sold exclusively on sarahstrong.org.
“I don’t know if they ever expected this to be as big as it has become, but it’s wonderful that she has all of this support,” Michelle Crussemeyer, a kindergarten teacher at Cleveland Elementary, said. “She’s been getting support from all over the country. We have a map in the office that shows all of the different states where people have bought T-shirts.”
In fact, Sarah Strong shirts have been ordered from people in 24 states.
Auker said the Crane family has been amazed by the community’s response.
“I just know for a fact that they are so overwhelmed with the support that Sarah is getting, and not only for her but the family as well,” Auker explained. “They are so appreciative of it. They appreciate everything everyone has done.”
Even students at Cleveland Elementary School have been showing their support.
“The kids have been wanting to support her and pitch in in any way they can,” Auker said with a smile. “We have a bus driver that has a Sarah Strong bus. All of the kids wanted to decorate the bus up for Sarah. They have posters and a little bucket where they can put donations.”
Parents at the school have also gotten involved with fundraising efforts. Jacqui Denman, who has two kids at Cleveland Elementary, was among a group of people who sold Sarah Strong shirts at the school’s fall festival Friday, Sept. 27.
“Sarah’s story was so touching, and I became very attached, so I started helping out in any way I could,” Denman said.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence gave Crane a shoutout Wednesday, Oct. 2, at a meeting in downtown Elkhart with local business and government leaders. Holding up a Sarah Strong shirt, he said he was moved by the community’s support of Crane.
“Sarah has our prayers,” Pence told the audience at a Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “But let me also say with this courageous Elkhart Memorial young lady, I think she personifies everything that is great about this community. Facing hardship, she has stepped forward to lead with resilience and faith and courage. Let me just say, your governor is also Sarah Strong.”
There are several ways the community can get involved to support the Crane family, Auker said. The next opportunity will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at Elkhart Memorial’s football field, where hundreds of people wearing purple Sarah Strong shirts are planning to unite for a group photograph. The school is located at 2608 California Road in Elkhart.
“It’s going to be big,” Auker said. “We’re expecting a lot of people to come out.”