To the rescue

Central Iowa farmers send aid to Nebraska flood victims

The very tops of houses peek through the murky water, people’s belongings floating inside the once-livable homes.

Grain housed in submerged steel bins spills out onto the ground, completely ruined. Countless livestock drowned.

The slowly receding floodwaters reveal just how devastating the flood’s impact is on Iowans and Nebraskans farming and living along the Missouri River.

The flooding over the past month has been attributed to a “bomb cyclone” that drenched the Plains and Upper Midwest with both rain and snow. That weather phenomenon attributed to the already melting snow and ice concerns.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts described the flooding as the most widespread disaster in state history. So far, government officials estimate at least $400 million in damages to crops and an additional $400 million in deceased livestock.

Farmers have shared stories of how they had just 30 minutes to set their animals free, but couldn’t. They had to flee to safety themselves, leaving behind the livestock to drown

Roads have been completely ruined. Bridges collapsed. Railroad tracks knocked off their foundations. Even a U.S. Air Force base was deluged.

But as soon as central Iowa farmers heard of the plight their fellow producers were facing, they stopped listening and snapped into action.

Shelli Eatwell, of Collins, saw a video on Facebook of semis hauling hay to Nebraska. She instantly felt compelled to do something.

“I sat there thinking, ‘I wonder if I could get a load put together,'” she said. “So I picked up the phone, called some customers and friends, and within four hours we had a full semi load. Some local kids helped us out, too, so on Saturday, March 23, we hit the highway headed for Nebraska.”

Donations were dropped off at Moser Farms in Nevada, which pulled in bales from all around the area. Eatwell’s employer, Availa Bank of Nevada, donated $500 to help pay for the fuel for the first trip.

“I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try and see what we could do and I just picked up the phone and made some calls to see who could donate bales,” she said. “The last guy I called offered up six, which was exactly what I needed to fill up that first load.”

While on the way to Nebraska, a friend messaged her, offering up 17 big square bales and round bales to contribute to the cause. Eatwell knew she’d be arranging a second trip.

With the help of Baxter residents Brock and Robin Hansen, who helped spread the word on social media, a second convoy of donations was formed in no time at all.

“I had people calling me and texting me. It just snowballed,” Eatwell said. “We have three maybe four loads going on this second trip that heads out Saturday morning from Baxter.”

She accompanied the crew to Nebraska for the first trip and described the mood as somber and appreciative. More than 100 bales were dropped off before they arrived.

Help was coming from other states, including three more loads from Kentucky, two from Colorado and 1,100 big round bales were set to arrive after them.

The items were dropped off in Mead, Nebraska, at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center, away from the dangerous flooding and devastation.

“We saw houses going under and in the middle of fields were huge logs just floating,” Eatwell said. “They kept us on good roads, passable roads, so we could get the donations safely there. We’re hoping to drop this second trip off at actual farms and get them directly to the producers.”

The Hansens are donating the use of their truck and trailer, along with other area farmers, for Saturday’s trip. They couldn’t believe how quickly people stepped up to help for round two.

“It was all through Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. We didn’t have to ask anyone to help; they all volunteered,” Brock Hansen said. “I’m also the fire chief in town and my wife is on the EMS crew and everyone in the farming community is happy to help. What we’re doing is by no means heroic or hard work. The ones doing the hard work are the people rebuilding fences, cleaning up spilled grain, cleaning out their houses. They have a tough road ahead of them and we hope the donations really help them out.”

Sue Gooch, her husband Mike, and her brother, Larry Pierick, harvest hay ground near Mingo in Jasper County. A seed corn broker, Gooch pairs extra seed unwanted by seed corn companies with people seeking that seed. She was working with customer Jacobsen Seed out of Lake View when she heard about the company putting together a relief package.

“I said, ‘Well, we actually have some hay we could donate,'” Gooch said. “That’s where it all started.”

The three of them decided to contribute 40 bales to the cause and trek with them to Lake View, a two-and-a-half hour drive.

But Gooch felt the call to do even more.

“We made a few calls between the three of us Wednesday night and by Thursday morning, our trailer was full of hay, clothes, shoes and cash donations for buying livestock feed to take along with us,” Gooch said. “The response was amazing. We never dreamt that we would be able to pull something together like that.”

Even Gooch’s contacts at Jacobsen were astounded at what the Iowa farmers managed to do in less than 24 hours. Adrian, Josh and Joe Sheffield, of Colo, and Brad and Becky Ziesman, of Baxter, gathered up an assortment of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. Todd and Stefanie Volz, of Ankeny, contributed two large square bales of corn stover. Nick Griffieon, of Polk City; Eric and Laura Harder, of Baxter; Kallie and Randy Hoksbergeg, of Polk City; and Kenny Sadquist, of Maxwell, donated almost 100 square hay bales along with the Gooches and Piericks.

Larry and Linda Pierick also supplied adult clothing, boots and blankets. Iowa State University offered the Nebraska-bound convoy numerous pairs of chore boots that were delivered by Jamie Anderson, of Ames, who also donated clothes, while Theisen’s in Ames offered the group a 15 percent discount on all animal feed Gooch purchased. Ed and Vicki Gooch provided $1,000 that was put toward the fuel needed to transport the hay, along with purchasing animal feed, salt, socks and T-shirts.

“We had a fourth cutting of hay for the horses and there’s too much foxtail in it to feed them, but it’s awesome for cows,” Pierick said. “We did this so that they know they’re not alone.”

Jacobsen Seed is currently filling a semi trailer with similar supplies that will hit the road April 5, along with the supplies provided by the central Iowans. They’re also accumulating bottled water and food to be handed out when it reaches Columbus, Nebraska.

“They have a farmer who is a customer of theirs who has agreed to be a drop-off and distribution point,” Gooch said. “He’s already received a load or two and by the end of the day, everything is gone. Everything is desperately needed and making a difference.”

“It doesn’t matter if anyone ever knows what we’ve done, but we go to bed feeling good that we did what we could at this point and time to help,” she added. “We know that this gesture would be returned to us in a heartbeat. It’s just the way the farming community is.”

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