It all started with 6-year-old Kai Baldwin of Vernal, Utah. He saw a news story about the flooding in Nebraska and could not hold back the tears. “How will they get home and save their animals without a bridge?” he asked his mom. “We have to send them our money!”
Touched by her son’s desire to help, Kai’s mom, Kristin Forbis, researched a reputable source to where a donation could be sent, and the pair invited friends and family to empty their pockets and add to Kai’s piggy bank donation of $3.21. The donations would be sent to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund, knowing that 100 percent of it would be used to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
“I let him set his own goal, and Kai decided a new bridge would cost $60,” said Forbis. “Kai walked our neighborhood gathering change and was ecstatic as he counted every nickel and penny.” Forbis also posted the fundraiser on her Facebook page, as Kai raised $285.28. The check was sent to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund along with Kai’s ‘Dear Nebraska, I’m sorry you got flooded…’ card and all his hope that a bridge could now be fixed.
Enter Jesse Wise of Culpeper, Va., a farmer who raises hay on 200 acres near Culpeper and feeds it to his cow/calf pairs. He also owns Wise Services and Recycling, a scrap metal recycling business. Recently, a customer had Wise scrap a functional temporary bridge, and Wise thought he could find a home for the bridge somewhere in Nebraska.
“I knew people were hauling hay to Nebraska; I didn’t have enough hay to share, but I wanted to help. So, I wondered if Nebraska could use the bridge we scrapped. Believe me, I had a lot of dead silence on the phone as I tried to find the bridge a home,” Wise laughed. “It’s not every day you get a call saying; ‘I have a bridge for you, can you use it?’” he said.
After getting nowhere, Wise called staff members from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation, which manages the Nebraska Disaster Relief Fund. The Foundation began working with Cedar County Commissioner Craig Bartels, who lives near Belden.
“There is a good chance that at least two bridges, if not more, will need to be replaced in Cedar County,” said Bartels. “We have several miles of road in Cedar County that is completely washed out and in need of repair. With all the rain that continues to fall, and all the mud, it is hard to fix those well-traveled roads, and now the less-traveled ones are in need of repair, too.”
Two months after flooding caused billions of dollars of damage, road crews are working hard to repair 3,300 miles of roads. According to the Nebraska Department of Transportation website, it is estimated that 27 state bridges were washed out or damaged. The number of county bridges damaged is still unknown.
It costs a lot to load a bridge and transport it across the country, but Wise put the pieces together. The cost to get the bridge to Nebraska is being split by Wise Services and Recycling, which donated the bridge; Neff Crane Rental, which donated the crane time needed to load the bridge onto a truck; and Read Transportation, which transported the bridge from Culpeper to Coleridge. “We thank them for their generosity and support for our rural community needs,” Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president, said.
Talk of bridges had died down in the weeks leading up to the day Kai received a thank you card in the mail from the Nebraska Farm Bureau with a note attached to call for updates. “I was told that just days after receiving Kai’s donation the Nebraska Farm Bureau staff received a call that Mr. Jesse Wise of Virginia had a bridge to donate. They immediately thought of Kai and after a few seconds of silence said to me, ‘It’s Kai’s bridge!’ and that left me just speechless,” Forbis said.
As for Kai, he hasn’t seemed surprised by the announcement of the bridge donation, as if a hard-working stranger across the country donating a bridge is the most natural thing he’s ever heard. Maybe that’s because a 6-year-old Utah boy and a Virginia farmer have something very rare in common: A kind heart and the desire to help in whatever way they can.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund continues to seek financial donations to meet the growing aid requests. To donate, apply for aid, or access other disaster assistance resources, visit www.nefb.org/disaster.