College student trades spring break for disaster relief
March 21, 2019
A college student in Nebraska isn't snowmobiling in Minnesota, like she had planned to do over spring break this week.
Instead, she's working fifteen hour days, collecting animal feed and medicines to help those farmers and ranchers in north central Nebraska affected by the devastating flood.
Katelyn Petersen, an animal science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a resident of Lyons, Neb., headed to her home in Lyons, in the far northeast part of the state, about 115 miles east of the Niobrara River, where flooding had occurred, on March 15.
She and her mom, Lana Petersen, had planned to leave the next day for a snowmobiling trip, but on her way home, she called her mom, asking if it was OK to cancel the trip.
Petersen wanted to help out in any way she could. Her mom said yes, and so on March 16, Petersen swung into action.
She went to her local farm supply store, armed with her credit card, and maxed it out at $1000, buying cattle, horse, dog and chicken feed.
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She also started a GoFundMe account, hoping to raise $2500 to buy supplies.
Then she took off with her mom and the trailer, dropping off the feed wherever it was needed, including in Verdigre, where they started.
She and her mom traveled around Verdigre and Lynch, Neb., sometimes not even talking to the farmer or rancher but leaving supplies. "Katelyn would get out (of the truck)," Lana said, "see a rancher and a horse, and she'd throw a bag of horse feed by their mailbox. If she saw they had a dog, she'd leave dog food."
Sometimes the two had to take back roads, since main roads and highways were closed due to flooding. The producers weren't usually available because they were working to save animals and their facilities. And sometimes they wouldn't ask for goods when she offered them. "A lot of these guys are proud," Katelyn said. "You'd talk to them, and they'd say, 'oh, we're fine."
During the mother and daughter's trip to Lynch last weekend, they had one of the most moving moments of the devastation. As they came over a bridge, they saw a rancher loading a dead baby calf into a side-by-side, with the mama cow standing there, looking at the calf. The rancher tipped his hat to the cow, as if in tribute to her loss. They cried. That moment "changed (Katelyn's) life right there," Lana said.
Donations have poured in to help her with helping the ranchers, "the animals' first responders," as she called them. On Sunday night, she got a call from a feed company wanting to donate. She expected a few pallets of horse feed, but the company sent a semi load full. Another business has also donated six pallets of trace mineral and white salt block, which "has been huge to the ranchers and their cattle," Lana said.
For a few days during the week, Katelyn has teamed up with a veterinarian in Lynch who she is working with to distribute supplies. She's been making rounds with her, helping treat animals. A few days ago, they visited a rancher who had lost multiple bulls and cows and an unknown number of calves. The calves are in a pile, and Katelyn started counting but quit when she got to 25, even though she wasn't halfway through the pile.
They are also dealing with calves that have to be put down, due to frozen feet, from standing in ice-cold water. And another calf they are doctoring is trapped by a huge piece of ice. To treat it, they have to walk across ice to get to it. The Niobrara River banks have large blocks of ice dug out from bridges and piled on the embankments. It will take weeks for the pieces of ice to melt, Lana predicted.
Every time she visits the ranchers, the people are positive, Katelyn told her mother. "These people are so positive and everybody says, 'I'm fine.' And they're not fine," Katelyn said. "Their homes are flooded, there are stacks of wet stuff thrown out of their houses, and their animals are dead.
"The farmers and ranchers say they've never seen anything like this in their lives," Katelyn reported. "I'm 22, and I hope I never see some of these things again."
She grew up on a farm, the daughter of Rich and Lana, and she's seen animals die, her mom said, but not this much at once. "She knows what death is, but not to this capacity."
Katelyn wants to emphasize that there are many other people doing what she's doing. She doesn't like the publicity. "It's about the animals," she says. She's shy, but that trait isn't evident this week. "She's orchestrated all of this," Lana said. "She's been amazing. She deserves all the credit."
She's careful with the use her credit card, her mom said, so for her to max it out to buy supplies was unusual. But Katelyn had faith. "She said, Mom, I know God will provide. I'm going to do this.'"
School starts back next week, and Katelyn has an obligation to be in Lincoln on Sunday, March 24 to make a presentation to a 4-H group that is collecting donations for the flood victims, even when they have their own flooding to deal with.
"People are so amazing and so grateful," Lana said.
Katelyn's quick organization and work was needed immediately after the flooding, her mother said. The big companies and big donations will come in as time goes on, but Katelyn's help was immediate. "We heard there's a truckload of vet supplies coming in and that's great," Lana said. "But it takes days and days to organize. She just went to the farm store and got it taken care of."
"She is doing what's in her heart."
As of press time, she has raised nearly all of her goal of $2500 on her GoFundMe page, along with many more private donations. Funds are still accepted on her page: https://www.gofundme.com/disaster-relief-for-nebraska-animals.