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Christians and Concerned Citizens Respond to Nebraska Bomb Cyclone

The term isn’t common, in fact I’d never heard of it until it wreaked havoc across the Great Plains a few weeks ago, but meteorologists know the term. It’s one strong storm system.

The strength of a storm is measured by its central pressure – the lower the number, the stronger the storm. This particular storm gained strength in just 24 hours rising to 968 millibars – just shy of Hurricane Florence (958) when it made landfall.

Cities and towns were engulfed in floodwaters, inaccessible by the outside world except by helicopter or boat.

And, this storm hit our Nebraska neighbors causing widespread devastation. The nightmare exploded across the landscape dumping heavy snow and rain on top of snow-packed, frozen ground which offered no place for more precipitation.

Howling winds, emergency declarations, evacuations, and horrific flooding resulted leaving hundreds of homeless people displaced in shelters. Levees failed. Rivers soared to record levels in the worst flooding in decades. Fences and trees were leveled. Bridges and thoroughfares were literally washed away.

Cities and towns were engulfed in floodwaters, inaccessible by the outside world except by helicopter or boat. When the Spencer Dam failed, the resulting 11′ wall of water carrying huge ice chunks made its way downstream, leveling everything in its path.

Some of the hardest hit by the enormity of it all were the children.

Family members were stranded away from other family members. Neighbors stepped in to care for neighbors. Some stepped up to help in shelters when they couldn’t return to their own homes.

The town of Fremont ran out of fuel and nearly ran out of food when it became an island for several days. Travel was possible within town, but those who were there couldn’t leave, and those who weren’t, couldn’t get there.

Some of the hardest hit by the enormity of it all were the children. Teachers tell of constant tears and fears during the school day, as little ones wondered if their parents would be able to get to the school to pick them up at the end of the day.

Nebraska farmers and ranchers are a resilient, self-sufficient people, but their losses were monumental during this storm and the aftermath.

Nebraska farmers and ranchers are a resilient, self-sufficient people, but their losses were monumental during this storm and the aftermath. The calving season – already made difficult due to heavy snows and brutal temperatures in February – was threatened by rapidly-rising water and ice. Farmers and ranchers were cut off from their livestock, and there was nothing they could do. One rancher said the agricultural industry is in crisis. Truly, this historic loss (estimated to be over $1 billion) will impact the food on our tables across the nation.

Pictures don’t do justice in times of such disaster. Try to picture this: trees trunks stripped of bark and any low-hanging branches by an onslaught of mini-glaciers in a sea of fast-moving and frigid water. Cars, homes, and farm equipment, destroyed. Some homes left standing but with basements filled with displaced mud and sand.

Whitecaps were visible on what was once prairieland. Imagine newborn calves frozen to the ground, dead. Prize-winning bulls – prime breeding stock – drowned, then buried beneath mud and sand from upstream. Surviving cattle, seriously traumatized, impacting milk production as well as future breeding attempts.

The stories emerging from Nebraska are truly unbelievable, however the story I tell offers a miniscule drop-in-the-bucket of hope thanks to the kindness and generosity of a few of our local residents.

A local friend recently posed a question on social media, asking if anyone was traveling to Nebraska soon. I responded, and that’s where this part of the story begins.

Photo Credit: Marilyn Hendrix (Standing L-R: Marilyn Hendrix, Lis Johnson, Brit Farley, Karen Sitts, Beverly Alstatt, Dorothy Sitts, Mary Peterson, Connie McCue. Seated L-R: Linda Wankum, Shirley Morris)

Shirley Morris is part of a local non-profit ministry, Toto Love, where volunteers make tied quilts to send to people in need, worldwide. They had quilts for the people of Nebraska.
The organization’s name speaks of their purpose: TOTO = To Others Through Others. LOVE is three-fold – the love in their hearts, the love sent to others, and the love of God (the impetus for this ministry).

“Most quilts are donated to Lutheran World Relief,” according to Morris, “and sent to countries around the world – especially those devastated by natural disasters.” Last fall, after the annual “Blessing of the Quilts” over 200 quilts were shipped to Minnesota, warehoused for future needs.

But last week nearly 40 handmade quilts went to Nebraska where I was headed for a writers’ conference.

Author Tosca Lee
My friend, Tosca Lee (New York Times and USA Today bestselling author) was our Nebraska contact, helping distribute what was sent to those in need. I met Tosca last year the Florida Christian Writers Conference. A former Mrs. Nebraska, Tosca and her farmer-husband, Bryan, know first-hand the devastation of their neighbors in the Fremont area, just NW of Omaha. In fact, it was through Tosca that I became acutely aware of the magnitude of the devastation, which unfortunately didn’t seem to get much mainstream media coverage.

Not only did I take thirty-some quilts (each with a personal note of encouragement for the recipient) but also cleaning supplies, household linens and bedding, games, toys, bookmarks, blank cards, slippers, clothing, stuffed animals, school supplies, and so much more – even funds to help from my Bible study gals.

The transfer from my car to hers took place in the parking lot of the conference venue, with a brisk, damp wind that urged us to go back inside as soon as possible. My car was being emptied and Tosca’s was being filled, but the transfer was incomplete when she ran out of room. I later met Tosca and Bryan in Fremont to complete the transfer.

It was quite comical, actually, like old video spoofs showing an endless stream of clowns exiting a much-too-small car. The quilts seemed to multiply as they were pulled from my much-too-small trunk, reminding me of the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes. Blessings, multiplied!

“How did you ever get all this in your car,” Tosca asked.

Not only did I take thirty-some quilts (each with a personal note of encouragement for the recipient) but also cleaning supplies, household linens and bedding, games, toys, bookmarks, blank cards, slippers, clothing, stuffed animals, school supplies, and so much more – even funds to help from my Bible study gals.

God has always led their group to someone who could help them bless others according to Shirley. He did so again with Tosca and Bryan. They are graciously completing the task by distributing donated items, and have dropped off quilts and more to churches, shelters, schools, thrift stores, nursing homes, and individuals in the Fremont area.

“There are many people and children who are fearful, hurting, and in need in the wake of the floods,” Tosca shared, as she told me of elementary students with anxiety and nightmares after learning their classmates had lost their everything.

I’ve returned home now, but was blessed to be a blessing as neighbors help neighbors. And, I’m amazed at the stories that emerge as the distribution continues. “I honestly just think people want to know that God and others SEE them,” remarked Tosca, in a recent conversation. I trust they know it thanks to the efforts of a few Kansas neighbors.

We see you, Nebraska neighbors! Our hearts break for you, but we’re praying and will continue to help as we can! Love, Your Kansas neighbors.

How can you help?
The Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund is accepting monetary donations, 100% of which will go to Nebraska cattle producers needing assistance. Checks may be mailed to 4611 Cattle Drive, Lincoln NE 68521.

Donations are also being accepted by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation. Checks may be mailed to P. O. Box 80299, Lincoln NE 68501-0299. Write “Disaster Relief Fund” in the memo. 100% of funds will be distributed to Nebraska farmers, ranchers, and rural communities affected by the disaster.

Toto Love is supported by donors, and staffed by volunteers. They meet at 9am on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1011 W Kansas in McPherson. Stop by to donate or help with future projects.

About the Author
Elaine McAllister served on staff at a Christian college and an evangelical church before retirement and now is a blogger, columnist, freelance writer at https://www.elainemcallister.com and author of two soon-to-be-published books—one, a resource for intentional grandparenting and the other, a children’s book about self-control for strong-willed little ones with explosive temperaments. Elaine and her husband live in the middle of Kansas where she enjoys leading a Bible study, decorating, gardening, traveling, and being Gramma Mac to five awesome grands.

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