NW pork producers aid hurricane victims
By DOUG CLOUGH
IDA GROVE – What do northwest Iowa pork producers and businesses like Van Voorst Concrete, Ag Property Solutions, GCC Ready Mix and the First Cooperative Association have in common? From erecting hog buildings to furnishing product to market, the easy answer is that they all contribute within the pork production community.
The detailed version has something more to do with a grassroots movement to help those in need.
Rand Whitney did his best to offer explanation while he sat in his Ida Grove office: “Steve Struck was sitting right across from me when he said that the National Pork Producers really should do something to help out those affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
Struck is a pork producer from Schleswig and a GCC Ready Mix representative. Whitney is the branch manager at the First Co-op Association, in Ida Grove. “We decided to call Greg Loehr, president-elect of the Iowa Pork Producers, to see what we could do,” said Whitney. “He was immediately interested in the idea and told me that he would make a few calls and get back with me.”
The next day, Friday, Nov. 1, the Pork Checkoff’s event trailer traveled to the east coast from Des Moines, while the National Pork Board Vice President charged both Whitney and Struck to gather 10 volunteers to assist in feeding victims of Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record to hit the northeast coast.
Both Struck and Whitney started making phone calls.
“Many were shocked to be asked,” said Struck. “A few said, ‘Are you serious?'” One thing the pair rarely heard, however, was a refusal, even in the face of a father’s decision to leave his wife in charge of the couple’s child, scheduled to have a tonsillectomy that week.
The assembled Northwest Iowa crew consisted of Marlin and Keaton Van Voorst, of Boyden’s Van Voorst Concrete; Darren Uhl, a Battle Creek-area pork producer; Roger Sargent, a Newell-area pork producer; Mason Goodenow, an Ida Grove-area pork producer; Toby Mosher, of Milford, a GCC Ready Mix representative; Brian Palmer, of Ag Property Solutions, of Emmetsburg; Rick McBride, a Danbury-area pork producer; plus Struck and Whitney.
While the team gathered manpower, the National Pork Producers Council lined up flights and worked with New Jersey authorities to see how to best utilize the team.
The volunteers flew out of Omaha’s Eppley Airfield early on Monday, Nov. 5, to meet the event trailer and begin feeding the hungry.
“Making the sandwiches was the easiest part,” said Whitney. “Who knew that distribution would take so much creativity?”
Upon landing in Newark, the troops met the trailer at Tom’s River East High School in Jersey only to find that the school was being prepared to reopen, so they couldn’t stay as planned.
“The first hour we were there, we grilled up a cooler full of sandwiches in an area where we knew the people were hungry.
“We set out the cooler and I yelled, ‘Any of you people hungry?’ At least 100 people swarmed the cooler while we backed off and let them at it. There weren’t any sandwiches left.”
On day two, the Pork Checkoff trailer moved to Ocean County YMCA. “We began asking utility workers and police officers if they needed to be fed,” said Whitney. “We got known by the local law enforcement who learned to come to us for a sandwich.
“I joked with one officer that ‘this wasn’t no donut shop; we won’t be here everyday.” Whitney said that the officer was in the right frame of mind for a ribbing.
It was that same day that the Iowans found the value of networking.
“A pickup came by and splashed some slush on us, so I yelled at the fella a couple times before he stopped,” said Whitney. “He opened his door, looking back at us and yelled back, ‘What do you want?”
“I asked him if he wanted a sandwich,” said Whitney. “He told me he ‘didn’t need no stinkin’ sandwich.’
“I asked him four times and he finally took one. He couldn’t believe we came all the way from Iowa to feed people.
“After talking to him awhile, we found out his wife knew some local city council members; she made a call and found a place for us to distribute our pork loins.
“It was an area called Operation Barbeque Relief at the Brick Township Police Athletic League in Brick, N.J. We fit in perfectly.
“We doubled our production in one day and set up a spot for the team who would relieve us on Friday.”
In all, more than 9,100 servings – 158 boneless loins, 306 boneless half loins, and 408 packages of brat patties – were distributed over the course of the week to New Jersey residents.
Extra product was donated to Operation BBQ Relief to continue distribution in Brick after the team flew home.
“Before we left, the man from the pickup, his wife and kids came to our trailer to say goodbye,” said Whitney. “His wife hugged all of us. He told us many Jersey folks wouldn’t come to help Iowans the way we helped them, but after getting to know us, he said, “I just might.”
Backed by the NPPC, Iowa values prevailed above all.
“At the end of the day,” said Struck. “It wasn’t about selling a product. All we were was people offering a hot sandwich to people who needed it most.”