BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – FMHS sophomore Lexi Miller and her family have rallied this community in support of relief efforts for Texas, but the effort is now taking on a life of its own.
The Tri-State Rodeo Operating Committee is putting their support to “Helping Hands for Harvey” by giving a $5 voucher to anyone bringing a donation to next Friday night’s events and Pinnacle is gathering donations, as well, and Ruan Transportation has agreed to haul the goods to Texas.
“We are very impressed that this young lady took the initiative to start the collection of needed items for the people affected by the hurricane in Texas. We wanted to help her with this project and offer our support to the people of Texas, where rodeo runs deep,” said Josh Denning, Chairman for the Tri-State Rodeo.
Items needed include: Non-perishable food items; diapers; wipes; dog food; toys for children; clothing; blankets; first aid kits; baby formula; and toiletries. Please make sure items are new or in good shape.
“I also want to thank our community partners for stepping up to be drop off locations for this project. Like the Tri-State Rodeo itself, it takes a community to make positive things happen,” Denning said.
Amy Hayes, Lexi Miller’s mother, said a Pinnacle official emailed her and will be donating 180 blanket kits and 23 cases of breakfast bars to the effort.
“An employee had forwarded the information to their offices and now they are collecting donations to make these blanket bags that have toiletries in them and can be handed out as kits,” Hayes said. “The email said Pinnacle would be honored to donate those items to Lexi.”
The effort began with Lexi approaching the high school, who found a staff sponsor, and started putting donation boxes in the school. Then, within hours, the athletic department agreed to have donation boxes outside each entry way to the football game and vehicles on hand to move the goods into a truck on the property.
Hayes said the Fort Madison Middle School is now also involved with asking students and parents to donate at that school as well.
Other places in the community where donations can be taken to receive the $5 voucher for the rodeo include: Huffman Farm and Home, Ameriprise Financial-Josh Denning & Assoc., Kempker’s True-Value, Lee County Bank, Connection Bank (Fort Madison and Keokuk), and Sub-Arena.
Vouchers can be used to purchase tickets at the Tri-State Rodeo ticket office located on the rodeo grounds or by calling 319-372-2550. The voucher will need to be turned in when picking up the tickets.
Several other locations including the schools, Shottenkirk, and 4B Tack are also accepting donations for the efforts.
Hayes said that some news outlets are saying that clothing is not a good item to donate, but she disagrees.
“These people are losing everything, their clothing, furnishings, and what not. A news article said something about the groups don’t know what to do with high heels and stuff like that. Give them to people so they can go to job interviews. Why are people so inside the box? I don’t agree with that,” she said.
But Miller is now the focus of a lot of media attention. Pen City Current interviewed Lexi on Monday but chose not to do a follow-up at this point so she can focus on school work and athletics and the fundraising effort. PCC will request a follow-up with her after the fundraising is complete.
Hayes said area television news groups, radio, and the Associated Press have all contacted her for interviews and features on her efforts in Fort Madison.
“This has snowballed quickly. We started on Monday and by Wednesday we had so many businesses wanting to help and so many places that are willing to have collection sites at their businesses. And a float is being planned for the Tri-State Rodeo parade next Saturday to collect donations from anyone who wants to bring them to the parade. Walkers will accept the donations and place them on the float.
She said logistics are still being worked out on storing the goods, but Ruan Transportation, with a hub in West Burlington, has agreed to ship all the goods to Texas as of 2 p.m. Thursday.
“Lexi, Jimmie, and I appreciate everyone’s willingness to help and we can’t say enough about how great this community’s support has been,” Hayes said.