BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The efforts of a Fort Madison High School student that garnered regional and statewide attention almost ended with a thud last week.
Lexi Miller, a student at Fort Madison High School, and her family started working back in August to collect donations for the Texas coast ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, in an effort dubbed Helping Hands for Harvey. The community and region rallied behind Miller and her parents Amy and Jimmie Hayes with collections being taken at the schools, area businesses and local events.
A Ruan semi-trailer was loaded with the goods on Tuesday afternoon with the help of about 15 volunteers. A house that was literally being used as a storage facility was unloaded in about two hours and then hauled down to the truck waiting in the former Sheaffer Pen parking lot.
But up until this week, the 3/4 of semi-trailer had no place to go. The groups that Miller and her mother had contacted to receive the goods no longer could accept them. Hayes said she was shocked and was afraid the effort may have tragically been wasted.
Miller said her mother started making calls and found out the places the donations were supposed to be going no longer were accepting them.
“I was kind of upset because we could have called them earlier but we waited longer to get more. I’m just glad she found someone,” Miller said on Tuesday afternoon while loading the trucks.
“I just don’t think they were interested any more at all. They said something about not being able to take the clothing because of possible health issues, but they wouldn’t take any of the stuff.”
But in the end she said it all is working out even better because now more people in different places will be able to benefit from the community’s efforts.
“It’s going to Florida now and then they’re flying it to Puerto Rico. Now I’m happy that it’s going to more places than just one and it can help more people,” Miller said.
But Hayes was a bit more concerned that all the efforts people were putting into the project would go unrealized. When the project first started and Miller’s family had found a place to deliver the goods, they told them it would be mid-October before the donations would be sent down, so she was surprised when she called to let them know they were coming and they were told they didn’t want them anymore.
“I called down to groups we started with and they said they didn’t need the donations anymore. And I was just floored. Floored. So I started calling churches and other places down there and nobody wanted the stuff.”
Hayes then called a friend she had met when she lived in Florida in the military and a name popped up of someone who may be able to take the supplies. Hayes said her friend had heard of a businessman who was looking to fly goods into Puerto Rico.
“I told her that I had a whole house full and said, “Do you want it?” She said ‘Sure, when can you get it here’, and this was on Friday.”
Hayes said she immediately contacted Ruan Trucking, where her husband works, and they said they could get a truck down to Fort Madison on Tuesday.
“The community was so gracious to donate all this stuff and now it’s like, nobody wants it. I was even contacting the islands where the eye of Harvey went and no one wanted it,” Hayes said.
“I know Puerto Rico only has about 20 percent of the people with electricity back on. There’s this business man down there, and I’ve never met the guy, but he has his own business and a jet and all this stuff is going into a hangar and he’s gonna have it flown into Puerto Rico.”
Hayes said she was ready to start contacting local shelters and other places who may need these types of donations.
Miller said she was very thankful for all the community did to help with the effort and had no idea the project would generate this kind of support.
“My mom helped me with a lot of this. It was very intimidating, all the trips we had to make to get things and all the trips she had to make when I was in school. It’s really neat that we could do this and I’m happy that someone will be able to use all this stuff.”