Hope In The Heartland

Sitting down to write this blog I have struggled and struggled because I don’t think words can justify the magnitude of generosity that these acts of kindness entail. So let me start by saying I hope I can share their story- their message-and the true story of the wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado. I still don’t think it truly captures the magnitude of the past week, but it’s a start.

For those of us in rural america, the heartland–we know the devastation that the wildfires have caused. This hasn’t been a national news headline–though it should be. It wasn’t in an urban setting but it has impacted in my opinion the best type of people there are in the world. The blue collar-hard working-family oriented- american ranching and farming families. It is my goal to continue to share the stories of these hard working men and women.

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A group of drivers left Midway Truck stop Friday morning to head to Ashland, Kansas

This past weekend a group of around 25 people and 15 loads of hay headed west from central Missouri to Ashland, Kansas. After a short delay, of one truck being to tall they hit the road and didn’t look back. On their way at various stops for fuel and food, donations were handed to them. A man gave them $20 and told him he wished he could give them more. A man at a Loves Truck stop in Cunningham, Kansas bought sandwiches for the group of drivers and managed to sneak out before the group was able to realize the gracious act that had been done.

Let me give you a little history on the woman who coordinated this amazing haul. Her name is Courtney Collins. She comes from a family full of huge hearts and are willing to help anyone at the drop of a dime. I grew up with this wonderful girl, being involved in 4-H and FFA. I’ve tried all morning to come up with just one word that describes her, but I simply can’t  describe her in one word. This girl can put a smile on anyone’s face simply with her own smile. She is a loving mother and wife. She has a heart so big and caring that I know she would do anything for anyone even if she had no means to which to do it–because she is so passionate and filled with determination that she would find a way. Courtney started organizing this haul just a week before they left.

Courtney Collins

Courtney Collins— From Englewood, MO

They organized a Facebook page, Central Missouri Wildfire Relief Convoy https://www.facebook.com/Centralmoconvoy/ (check it out). Since then they have also started another page, Hopeintheheartland https://www.facebook.com/hopeintheheartland/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf (check it out too).

Using social media, radio stations, and news channels this group alone donated over:

  • 511 round bales of hay and over 220 square bales
  • 650 T-Posts
  • They received over $8,000 dollars just in monetary donations- this included $3,050 from their GoFundMe page. $1,040 from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Meeting, $3,000 from Veterans United, and gobs of gift cards and fuel cards to purchase items that these ranchers needed.

I interviewed Courtney today about the trip to give me a little more insight on what it is really like out there. She told me she thought she had prepared herself for how bad it was going to be out there, but that didn’t prepare her for what she saw.

After seven blown tires and an overpass that a few hay bales got a hair cut from, they arrived in Ashland, Kansas at 11:30 on Friday evening. They were greeted by Jeff Kay the owner of Ashland Feed and Seed. Courtney told me that this was one of the largest convoys of hay that had been brought into that location. The hay was unloaded to get guys that were headed back that night, on the road again. They were given a cabin to stay in at  Tamarack Outfitters.

 

The sun rose on another day and Courtney had the chance to hop in the truck with Jeff Kay and see the country side. That day they also delivered hay to Mr. David Clawson. Courtney described David as a very sweet man. David lost six to seven thousand acres to the fire. He lost his barn, 250 round bales of alfalfa and 30 head of cattle. People with large amounts of cattle that are spread out on a lot of land sometimes use a siren to call their cows in. David’s cattle were trained to a siren. The day of the fire he used his siren to call in his cows. However, at the same time on the back side of his property fire trucks were coming down the road with their sirens blaring . He lost those 30 cows because they ran to the fire trucks sirens over his own.

Courtney went on to describe that as the fire progressed David jumped into his tractor and worked on working the ground to try to save his house and the ground essentially making a barrier. He could feel the heat and was eventually consumed by a black cloud of smoke. He was only saved by knowing the lay of the land. He almost ran into the chicken house while doing so but somehow miraculously the smoke cleared just as David was about to hit it, which allowed him to swerve to miss it.

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Photo Credit to “Outdoor Exposure by Denise” I’ve been told this is David Clawson himself but I can’t say that with 100 percent accuracy.Please correct me if you know differently.

 

The group standing at David Clawson’s farm.

I asked Courtney what the most heartbreaking thing she saw during her visit to Ashland, Kansas was. She said, “There was this cow who had died, but she was pressed up against the fence with her legs underneath it like she was doing everything in her power to escape. I can only hope she died of smoke inhalation before she was consumed by the fire.

Courtney talked about how the game warden and local vet had to ride around and look at various groups of cattle to determine whether or not they would pull through or if putting them down was the humane thing to do. I’ve talked before how hard it would be for me to shoot that many of my cows. A cow that they may have raised their mother and her grandmother. It’s simply unimaginable.

When asking Courtney to describe her experience in only three words, she said,”Emotional, Heartbreaking,Humbling, and Devastating.” That’s four words as anyone can read but I think this event deserves as many words as we can give it.

Another young woman who drove a load of hay out to Ashland, Kansas that day was Mj Williams. I also had the privilege of going to school with her. She is also a loving mother and a strong willed, caring, and fun loving person. She sent me a piece she had written to describe her experience and asked me to share it. So the following is from Mj Williams from Ashland, MO.

Mj

Mj Williams, from Ashland, MO stands by the American flag on her trailer load of hay headed to Ashland, KS

“Leaning against the bed of my pick-up, scenes from last night reeled through my mind: dirt roads, laden with soot. Ditches and fence lines, reduced to dry earth and ash. The sickening aroma that wafted through the air. The Kansas sun crept along its morning path, fingers of golden light filtering through the ancient cottonwood trees. Cows lulled in the distance, their voices riding the cool breeze. Shakily, I breathed deep, filling my lungs with that beautiful prairie air. I’m not an emotional person; however, I couldn’t stop the tears. I was wrecked with grief: grief that I didn’t own. Heartache that I didn’t earn. Pain that I hadn’t truly felt. The weakening that my brothers and sisters had endured had latched on to my soul, digging its wretched claws into my very being. The next tidal wave hit me: selfishness. Who was I to feel this way? I had a home. I didn’t know loss. My greatest woes came from a sore back and tired mind, just a stitch compared to the mortal wound members of rural Kansas had felt. I reminded myself: I made this trip, traveled 1,100 miles, to share my neighbors’ burden. This is exactly what I signed up for. I just never dreamed how raw it would be. My body slumped, with weak knees, I sought comfort in the form of a flatbed trailer. I sat, head in my hands, and wept. The fuel pump clicked but I didn’t care. I was the only truck parked in the small gravel lot. Three ragged fuel silos separated the co-op station from the railroad tracks. A stubby brick building blocked my view to the east.
Ahead of me, the long narrow blacktop rolled on, riddled with potholes, edged with pasture. A glint of green caught my eye: a wheat pasture stood alone in the midst of the drought stricken paddocks. I would never look at a wheat field the same again. My memory flashed to a story heard just the night before: families, just like mine, fled their homes. Running for their lives, they sought refuge from the flames. A wheat pasture, their saving grace. What a fate, to stand huddled, watching the world burn around you. To watch everything you have ever known, everything you hold dear, fall victim to an unnamed monster. A monster with no face and no prejudice: a wicked demon, feasting on your home, your livelihood. Fire does not discriminate. Fueled by the wind, it seeks and destroys with reckless abandon. It knows but one enemy: love. A commodity overflowing in rural America. Love shows in the form of bravery: formed in the hearts and minds of the volunteer fire departments who battled tirelessly. Love shines through the headlights of the tractors, working non-stop, engineered by the locals to provide hay to their neighbors. Love rings out with every t-post driven into the charred ground. Love courses through the veins and fuel lines of every single individual, from near and far, who drove hours and days to deliver aid. Three-hundred thousand acres fell victim to this beast. But love, love will rebuild it. The agricultural community knows no boundaries. Reaching out with calloused hands, we will cross state lines, we will build fence, we will pray, we will hold our brothers and sisters tight. We will share their burden with strong backs and full hearts. We will not stop. We will continue to deliver hope in the heartland, one bale of hay at a time.”
Beautifully Written by Mj Williams
I wanted so badly to tag along on this trip to see the devastation, to talk to the locals and hear their stories, their grief and burden. I was unable to as you can see. I would like to think I could prepare myself for what I would’ve seen but after talking with Courtney and Mj I wouldn’t have stood a chance. I had tears rolling down my cheeks just from the last few posts I published about the fires. I couldn’t imagine how I would be after actually witnessing the aftermath.
I think the thing that chokes me up the most is the support these wonderful folks have been given from their neighbors. I’m not talking about the person who lives down the road or right next door from them. I am talking about the hundreds of thousands of people across the United States who have dropped everything-loaded up hay and feed and headed to their fellow farmers and ranchers without even blinking an eye.
My facebook feed has been filled with video after video and picture after picture of trucks loaded up and headed out hauling hay, fencing supplies or feed. Our industry is made up of the best people. They are generous. They are resilient. They are strong. They are loving. They are full of passion and dedication. I could go on and on but I won’t. They are full of HOPE. They are united as one. They are here for their neighbors even if that neighbor is a thousand miles away.
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I talked to Courtney this evening and she informed me that the 1000th bale that she organized to be delivered had arrived in Ashland, Kansas. She started this all a week ago in hopes of getting 30 bales out there this past weekend. The fact that in a weeks time 1000 bales made it out there is simply amazing. This girl has the biggest heart and I know that everyone else that knows her would say the same. What Courtney orchestrated though wouldn’t have been possible without all the donations–the hay, feed, fencing supplies, trucks and trailers, money and gift cards.
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The fire may have burned the grass, the hay, the cows, the homes and barns. What that fire can’t burn is the passion and dedication of the people that remain. It’s what makes us more then just acquaintances and neighbors, it’s what makes us a family.  We are put through trial after trial of hardship but we still manage to pull through thanks to our fellow ranchers and farmers. We know that if this happened in our home, on our turf they would be knocking on our door.
Thanks to the generous donations of others, the people who fell victim to these fires are slowly but surely on the road to recovery. No, we can’t replace the items they lost. We can’t pull the images embedded in their head from those days. We can’t physically be there everyday until they are put back together. What we can do, is continue to send donations, continue to pray for them, continue to share their story. 
Courtney has already began plans to make another trip sometime in April (the 15th possibly). Again they are taking donations of any kinds. Money to pay for fuel and blown tires. Money for the fire victims. They are specifically asking for six foot t posts and barbed wire. Anything that you may think these sweet people need.
So as the weeks go on, lets not forget these people. Lets continue to help them move forward. We all know that we would be wanting them to do the same for us. That’s the great thing about all of this. These enormous acts of kindness have proven time and time again what great people this industry holds. It proves that we have each others back even if that means literally giving them the shirt off our own.
Looking west today, only reminds me of what Courntey Collins and the Central Missouri Wildfire Relief Convoy have done. They have shown urban America what rural America is all about, being there for others even during the worst of times and helping them in any form possible—even if that is simply delivering HOPE one hay bale at a time…….
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