Called to service: Locals rally to help Hurricane Harvey victims

Left to right: Tim Smedsrud and Curtis Dundee of Waukon with the load of donated supplies they collected from northeast Iowa residents and businesses and delivered to Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas. Submitted photo.

by Lissa Blake

When disaster strikes in a far-off place, people often wonder if there is something they can do to help. And when Decorah native Tim Smedsrud and friend Curtis Dundee, both of Waukon, heard about the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey recently, they answered the call.

“I have this 6’ x 12’ trailer and I just thought maybe there was something we could be doing with that,” said Smedsrud.

Smedsrud, an Allamakee County Sheriff’s Deputy, called his friend, Dundee, who works for Bruening Rock Products.

“I called and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this crazy idea. What do you think if we take donations and make a trip down to Houston?’” recalled Smedsrud.

Dundee jumped at the chance.

It wasn’t the first time the two men, who met at Iron Ridge Church, would join efforts to help others in need. In March of this year, they were also involved with a group that traveled to Haiti for hurricane relief through Upstream International.

“It was just something we felt we were called to do,” said Dundee.

It was a week before Labor Day when the two hatched their plan. They issued a plea to local media and enlisted the help of their children, spouses and their neighbors in northeast Iowa to help in whatever way they could.

Dundee said his wife, Mandee, a classroom associate at West Elementary School in Waukon, and his children spread the word, as did Tim’s wife, Nikki, who works at the Allamakee County Courthouse. Dundee’s daughter went door-to-door collecting donations from neighbors.

“We have to say we both really appreciate our wives’ support in encouraging us to do this,” said Dundee.

Dundee also thanked his employer, Bruening Rock Products, for giving him the day off. “I called the boss and he just said, ‘Do what you gotta do.’ They were real good to me about it,” he said.

Smedsrud said one of the things he knew was crucial was finding the right connection down in Houston, TX. He called on the pastor from the Onalaska First Free Church, who had been instrumental in helping coordinate their previous trip to Haiti, to get some guidance on how they could connect with someone in Texas.

“He gave me the information for Crisis Response International and I emailed them to find out if there was someone they knew of who would be able to accept a load of physical donations down there, and there was,” said Smedsrud.

Just three days after deciding to help, the Waukon men headed south with a trailer full of supplies for the hurricane victims. They took 150 cases of bottled water, bleach, toiletries, boxes of cereal, Shop Vacs, shovels, cleaning supplies and more.

“There were several restaurants who were happy to donate bottled water they had left over from RAGBRAI,” said Smedsrud.

Friday morning, September l, they began their 22-1/2 hour drive to Tomball, TX, a suburb of Houston. When they arrived, they could see the town was running low on supplies. “They were very glad to see us. They certainly weren’t overwhelmed with donations,” said Smedsrud.

Smedsrud said when they arrived, the lead guy at the drop site was brought to tears when he realized the northeast Iowa community had pulled the load of donations together in just three days.

“He actually was crying. He wanted to make sure northeast Iowa knows how much it was appreciated,” said Smedsrud.

Both Smedsrud and Dundee said seeing their neighbors so eager to help was the best part of the whole experience.

“We’re getting the recognition, but we just answered God’s call for us to do it. It was the community that came together. We just drove down there and dropped it off,” said Smedsrud.

Dundee agreed. “Helping is a group effort. A lot of people have done good things for me. What goes around comes around,” he said.

Smedsrud said because this experience was so positive, he is already preparing for the next trip where he feels he can be of any assistance to those who may need it most.

“Yesterday, I traded in my trailer for a big one that can carry heavier loads. The community responded really well. I just thought if we need it, we’ve got a trailer that could haul more,” he concluded.

Smedsrud is a 2001 graduate of Decorah High School and the son of Don and Joan Smedsrud of rural Waukon. Dundee is a 1998 graduate of Central Community High School in Elkader and the son of Milo and Kate Dundee of Elkader.

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