Tuesday, February 22, 2011

United We Sand

I'm going to take a quick aside from my normal ramblings about my family and give you a small peek at the community at large that I call home.

So far this winter, we have received over 66" of snow, and contrary to the ground hog's prediction, I'm assuming there will be more snow into the month of March.  We also are on the brink of flood season here. While the powers that be argue back and forth about where to build a permanent dike and who's going to pay for it, the people of Fargo must sandbag to protect their homes. Every Spring. Like clockwork.
Fargo and Moorhead, separated by the Red River (2010)

We live on the mighty Red River, Fargo on one side and Moorhead, Minnesota on the other. It's one of the few rivers that flow North. I personally don't consider it a nice river, and by nice I mean you can't swim in it. It's muddy, rapid and there's been body's found in it. Picky, picky. I know.

Anyway, the sandbagging is starting early this year due to major flood predictions being more of a possibility than originally thought. The sandbagging process is nothing less than awesome. To give you an idea of what needs to be accomplished in a very short time, they are setting a goal of 3 MILLION sandbags to be filled.
Not even close to 3,000,000

I have a hard time wrapping my head around that number. The logistics in filling, storing and transporting these sandbags are enormous. I'll try to explain it in my own layman's terms.

You must find a place where these sandbags can be filled, housed and hold all the volunteers (and YES I said, VOLUNTEERS!) It used to be in the Fargodome, but post-cleanup costs became too extravagant. We now have a different location dubbed, "Sandbag Central."
Sandbag Central

I must pause here and say that most of the volunteers are high school and college students. Without them, the cities would have been sunk. They consist of athletes, students and staff who trade their vacation time and weekends in for a shovel and back breaking work for hours at a time. Not only at Sandbag Central, but also at homeowner's properties, filling and stacking in snow, sometimes freezing rain and cold. (Blizzard+Flood= "Flizzard Fighters). They don't know the owners, they just know they need help. But volunteers of ALL ages showed up. It's a good life lesson to teach your kid.

City officials turn main thoroughfares into one-way streets for transporting the sandbags. These caravans of flatbed trailers are lead by squad cars with their sirens on to assure fast delivery, because in this situation, every second counts. Literally. Lines of volunteers stream in to Sandbag Central, and are promptly loaded on to buses to take them where the need is the greatest.

There is a system in place for actually placing sandbags. Two long lines are formed, with people facing one another and the bags are thrown back and forth in a zig-zag motion as it goes down the line. Certain bags have obtained nick-names, "boulders" were sandbags filled with a large chunk of frozen sand, "babies" were sandbags that needed to be handled gently due to a loose tie or just had very little sand in it. Uncommon friendships are made. Old and young alike, working for the same cause. If one person tired, there was someone to take their place while they took a break, recouped and rejoined the line. It's a dirty job. Clothing consists of several layers, heavy-duty gloves, waterproof boots, and anything else that will keep you warm. Fashion flew out the window, it's all about warmth people!

Beyond the actual physical work, volunteers helped in so many other ways. There were call centers used to direct the volunteers to each neighborhood, and keep track of how many were there, how long they were there and to answer any questions Joe Blow would have regarding the flood. Large ambulance-like vehicles would roll up to each area loaded with donated cases of water, sandwiches, chips and cookies. It was not unusual for moms to show up with their kids, dragging a wagon behind them up to its wheel in snow, full of BBQ sandwiches they made themselves at home...to feed 50 or more people. You never saw bigger smiles. I don't know who was happier, the hungry volunteers, or the children who at last found a way to be a part of the "movement" by handing food and drinks out. Local pizza joints and diners, would send 100s of pizzas and burgers to satisfy the famished mobs. Hardware stores donated necessary tools. A local AM station would be on 24/7 broadcasting call-in needs of the public. If a person needed an extra sump pump, they'd get it within the hour, usually from someone who had an extra and drove around all the flooded streets to get it to them. Boat owners gathered life jackets and rescued residents and their pets from homes that had become surrounded by ice-filled waters.

People opened their homes to displaced pets of families who had lost the fight and had to stay in a hotel where animals weren't allowed.

It constantly amazes me how a community can pull together in the face of adversity, regardless of race, age, sex, or physical ability and protect a city...even when the government can't pull their heads out long enough to make a decision to avoid millions of dollars in damage, cleanup and lost business the following year. Because it HAPPENS EVERY YEAR. This will be at least the 3rd consecutive year it's happened here. So, every time I gripe and complain during the winter, about HOW COULD I POSSIBLY LIVE HERE?! I just have to remember the caliber of people that surround me. North Dakota, through and through. I volunteered. It was only for about 4 hours. But my body ached, my arms ached and my heart had never been fuller.


  1. If you want to know how you can help, visit:

  2. Wow. that's pretty amazing. I had no idea.

  3. Wow! That's a lot of work. And Sand! It truly is amazing what people can accomplish when they pull together.

  4. It's amazing how a community comes together, with people volunteering for a common cause. It sometimes seems unlikely, but I've seen it happen so many times, too. I think adversity has a way of reminding us we're all human beings, and we're all in this together, "this" being life.

  5. Mom of the Perpetually: It really is, it's proven over and over during this season.

    The Reason You Come: So well put!