Hay! Donations coming to Nebraska from all around the country
When people need help in rural America, someone answers the call.
And Hannah Sucha found out that a whole bunch of people will answer the call.
When parts of northern and eastern Nebraska were flooded on March 13, Sucha, a resident of Verdigre, Neb., saw a Facebook post put out by the Knox County (Neb.) News on March 16, asking for help for the Ruzicka family, who lost their home and all their farm buildings when the Spencer Dam broke.
She called her dad, Curt Zimmerer, the former owner of the Verdigre Livestock Market, asking him to take the three round bales of hay he had to the family. Zimmerer took it a step farther. He made some phone calls, and an hour later, called her back. “Hannah,” he said, “we’re having a hay drive. Get out here and make a sign.” She posted it on her Facebook page, and within an hour, the post had 300 shares. That afternoon, an elderly gentleman pulled up in his 1998 Ford, with a bale in the back. “I know this isn’t much,” he told Zimmerer and Sucha, “but it’s the one good bale I have left and I know this family needs it more than I do.” His comment “brought me and my dad to tears,” Sucha said.
That first day, Saturday, March 16, 21 people, all locals, donated hay.
After that, the calls started coming from all over.
Sucha’s first goal was to help the Ruzickas. Their 300 head of cattle were split between three neighbors who were feeding them. Then Sucha and Zimmerer realized that destruction and devastation had occurred up and down the Niobrara River Valley and farmers and ranchers needed help. “My dad knows the livestock guys,” Sucha said, since he and his wife Sherri owned the livestock market for 23 years. “He said, ‘we have to do something for these guys.”
The donations started pouring in. Hay and supplies from sixteen states: Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Texas, Minnesota, Montana and Missouri have been delivered. A farmer and his wife and daughter from Pennsylvania even brought a pickup and trailer load of hay.
“People wanted to help,” she said. Someone bringing hay from Kansas commented that they were returning the favor that Nebraskans had done for them. “We bring hay to you, because Nebraska sent it to us during the wildfires,” Sucha was told.
The drive continues, and the donation and distribution center is the Verdigre Livestock Sale Barn (now owned by Sara Anthony and Matt VanDriel), and Zimmerer’s buildings. Three local men, all hay haulers, donate their time and equipment to man the center. They receive hay, unload it, and deliver it. One of the men brought his own tractor, instead of using the skid loader Zimmerer had, because it was faster. On March 24, Farm Rescue donated the use of a tractor for as long as it is needed.
Zimmerer coordinates where the hay and supplies are delivered, and he knows some of the farmers and ranchers are too proud to ask for help. “He knows these guys,” Sucha said. “He says to the trucker, ‘you go to this place and you drop this off, and I’ll call them and say, you’ll need to have someone there to unload it.’”
The recipients are grateful and positive, Sucha said. “When you go to their place, they’ll have a big smile on their face, even though they’ve lost so much. You ask how they are, and they’ll say, I’m doing good today.”
Their biggest donation, to date, was ten loads of hay, a trailer of supplies, and a load of grain, all transported from Ohio, and brought to Verdigre on March 26. “My dad’s eyes lit up when those trucks came in,” Sucha said.
The Zimmerer welding shop is full of donated items that are being passed on to farmers and ranchers. “We’re kind of a little bit of a feed store,” she said. “We have it all organized. The gloves are in a bin, there are boots, coats, sweatshirts, hats, tons of cat food and dog food, insulators, fence pliers, barbed wire, vaccines, syringes, colostrum, feed, milk replacer, and buckets.
“When people come in, we fill them up and send them out the door. And maybe they didn’t need all of those things, but you know if you send it with a farmer, and they don’t need it but maybe their neighbor does, they’ll give it to them.”
David Beechy and his wife Brianne and daughter Magdalena loaded up a trailer with fourteen round bales and drove from their farm near Washington, Penn. to Verdigre, a one-way trip of about 1,000 miles.
Beechy, who farms in Pennsylvania and Ohio, had heard of the flooding in Nebraska and wanted to help.
“We had a little bit of extra hay this year and Nebraska ran out of hay pretty fast, a week ago. It was something we could do to help that didn’t cost us much more than gas money.”
Beechy’s wife grew up in the Omaha area, and that was also a reason to help out. “It makes the whole Nebraska flooding thing that much closer to our hearts.”
When he posted on Facebook that he was making the trip, more hay was donated. He plans at least two more trips, with round bales, square bales, and grain.
He’s started a GoFundMe page: Hay for Nebraska Flood Relief, and because of Facebook posts, another farmer from Ohio plans on following Beechy on his next trip to Nebraska with hay. The Ohio hay will be taken to flooded livestock producers south of Omaha.
Beechy was glad to do it. “Because we farm, it struck us. All farmers go through difficult times. We had extra hay this year, and I guess it seemed right to do.”
When Sucha and her dad started this, they didn’t think it would last this long. “We thought it would be a Saturday and Sunday and we’d be done,” she said. “My dad hasn’t set foot in his business since last Saturday. He’s overjoyed. He loves this stuff.” Sucha has gone back to her fourth grade teaching job in Creighton, Neb., and she misses the relief work. “I was so sad I didn’t get to see the twelve trucks come in.”
While the two had coffee one morning, discussing the hay drive, Zimmerer told his daughter one of the reasons he’s working so hard. “He said, ‘Hannah, the government can’t solve all our problems. We have to solve our own problems. We have to help our neighbors.’”
She is quick to emphasize that there are many others donating their time and talents besides her and her family. Andrew Olson, from Norfolk, has made more than eight trips to Verdigre to bring donated items. They’ve seen so much of him that Sucha says, “he’s literally become family this last week. And I had no idea who this guy was before a week ago.”
And the community has responded as well. The project encompasses so many other volunteers now. “Everybody in the community is coming together. We call and say, we need help unloading something and they’re right there.
“It’s brought the community together. The worst possible thing happens (the flood) and it brings a community together.”
Her dad understands the plight the livestock producers are in. “He doesn’t want to see anybody fail,” she said. “He wants to make sure we can keep these farmers and ranchers in the area. He’s the reason it’s still going.”
People have expressed their gratitude to Sucha, and that has kept her going through long hours and lots of work. “I got a text from a farmer and he said, ‘thank you for everything you’re doing for me and my family. Without you and your dad, we’d be looking for hay and fencing. You may very well be the reason we can go on and hope for a better year next year.”
She got another text that summed up what ag people are about. It read, “Hannah, the actions you, your family and volunteers are doing are unbelievable. You’re bringing light to these people at their darkest hour. Thank you for filling our hearts with hope for the future and representing the Midwest in the best possible way through your actions.”
Beechy’s GoFundMe account for flood relief can be found at https://uk.gofundme.com/hay-for-nebraska-flood-relief
To make donations to Sucha and Zimmerer’s hay drive, Curt Zimmerer can be reached at 402.841.2835.