If someone has cancer, there's a fundraiser to help. Car wreck injuries? A sick child? A burned down home? The town steps up for that, too. Heck, one guy with only weeks to live recently held a benefit to raise money for his own cremation.
At the table is Melvin Coleman, who counts among his relatives-by-marriage nephew Scott Podsednik, a professional baseball player who was drafted from West High and played with the Chicago White Sox to win the 2005 World Series.
Coleman's wife lost a cousin in the blast. And Coleman's mother was evacuated from the nursing home by his daughter, who used to be a beautician there. She peered through a half broken window to see her grandmother's eyes peering out from the debris piled around her, and kicked in the remaining glass so she could get in to save her.
That's the West way.
From the old tin shop at the south end of Main Street in the town center, a person can walk to the other end, or Wild Bill's Outlaw Steakhouse, in about seven minutes. And that's with stops to take notes. The same is true going east to west along Oak Street, the other main road, and across the train tracks.
Amid the antique shops, bars and restaurants, there's a rodeo shop, weathered appliance store and barbershop with walls covered in guitars and old photos. Closed signs dot most doors. Plywood is nailed in some storefronts where windows once were.
A small bouquet in the door of Donna's House of Flowers is tied with ribbons that read "with sympathy." In the window, there's a photo from last month's 20th annual barbecue cook-off of those who volunteered with the West Fire Department. Another arrangement in the door -- in red, white and blue -- is from Donna and bears a note, which reads in part:
"I lost my best friend and husband Doug on Wednesday, along with his brother Robert. My family and I are mourning their loss and appreciate the love and support we have received from friends, neighbors, community members and complete strangers. ... Out of respect for all the firefighters and first responders we will be closing the flower shop until further notice."
Folks wear T-shirts bearing slogans like "God bless West." Children sit behind tables selling cupcakes and lemonade to help their community. Watching the story of the Boston marathon bombing unfold early last week, people here talked about how they couldn't imagine that sort of shock and communal pain.
Now some are calling this their mini-9/11 -- though they wonder, given the size of West, if this hurts more.
The sense of family and community responsibility has certainly played out over the past week. Among those who benefited, but also hoped to give, is Emil "Sonny" Fridel.
At 90, Fridel is still a man about town. He drives himself to the library, frequents The Village Bakery and makes regular stops for coffee at Czech Point. For years, he was a supervisor at the post office, a job that allowed him to know everyone.
This town was destined to become his home the day he fell for a "pretty West girl" at a local dance hall. The year was 1945, and he'd just returned from service abroad in the U.S. Army.
Pearl was an artist, a woman who taught many in town how to paint. Fridel's home pays homage to his wife's work -- including china plates and more than 200 dolls, their faces hand painted. Oil paintings dot the walls and lean against furniture. After she died, about a year and a half ago, the library held a retrospective of her work.
Fridel visited his pretty West girl every day in the nursing home where she lived before her death. The West Rest Haven was destroyed in the fertilizer blast, its 133 residents evacuated. It was still one of his favorite places to go, even though she is gone. He went there almost daily.
When the explosion rocked the area, most West residents didn't know what to think. Some, who lost power and watched pictures crash to the floor, thought it was an earthquake. Others, farther away and less affected, wondered if it was a propane tank blast. One guy, whose house was fine, figured a plane crashed. The artist, Bobby Allen, thought the North Koreans got a bomb and hit nearby Fort Hood.
A woman who lived about half a mile away and was thrown from her couch, looked up at the eerie sky -- a mix of pink, violet, green and a cloud of gray. "It was Stanley Kubrick directing something," she says. "That's how surreal it was."
But Fridel couldn't see any of this. He was in his den several miles southwest and saw his lights flicker. His hearing isn't great, but he couldn't miss that boom. A closet door swung open, as did some cabinets. He poked his head outside, not knowing what he was looking for. Synthie Dulock caught sight of him and came running.
Dulock, who lives next door, explained what had happened and insisted he evacuate with her family. As the news sunk in, he was resistant to go with the Dulocks and made a move toward his own car. There was somewhere else he wanted to go, and she had to stop him.
"He was concerned about people in the nursing home and wanted to help them," she says. "He said, 'They need me. I want to help.'"
No one is more grateful for neighbors like Dulock, who took care of Fridel overnight, than Fridel's daughter, Mary Ann Kubacak, who lives outside Austin, about 100 miles away. But Dulock says she did what anyone in West would do.
"Everyone is always taking care of each other," she says. "You're never going to meet a stranger."
'You don't want to know'
We walk into Mynars Bar, just down the way from Donna's flower shop, as strangers are tossed blue rubber bracelets emblazoned with the words "God is big enough."