Hormel challenges: Stop the flooding

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2000

Hormel Foods C.

Saturday, July 29, 2000

Hormel Foods C.E.O. Joel Johnson issued a check and a challenge Friday.

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The $50,000 check will go to the local Disaster Relief Fund being administered by the United Way. The challenge went out to local and state government officials.

"I’d like to take this opportunity to issue a challenge to the state legislature as well as the local governments," Johnson said, speaking outside the company’s corporate office on a Friday afternoon so sunny that it was difficult to imagine the conditions in Austin two and a half weeks ago had wrought such devastation. "I hope the state and local government will take action to actively address the core of the water problems here, rather than acting defensively and reactively to the flooding.

"To my knowledge, this is the third 100 year flood in 22 years. We clearly have a problem."

No state or local politicians were at the press conference, but State Sen. Pat Piper agreed there was a problem on the phone after hearing of the challenge. However, she said there was nothing the state could do at this time other than what is already being done. The state pays 10 percent of the costs when an area is declared a Presidential Disaster area.

"The federal government is usually the one involved in helping reconstruct after a problem with flooding," she said. "I know a lot of Rochester’s money came from federal sources … We will always keep checking though. We don’t want people to have to go through another one of these floods.

"There is always next session," she added, "I’m sure there will also be needs because of the tornado."

More immediately, Johnson said, he hoped the Hormel Foods Corp. money would help both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army replenish the reserves they’ve nearly depleted in their efforts to help victims of the flood.

"We saw a real need," Hormel Director of Public Relations Allan Krejci said. "Once we learned that the United Way had set up this fund we made an instant decision that we needed to be a leader in this fundraising effort."

The Fortune 500 company got an A+ for corporate citizenship from both the Salvation Army and the Red Cross representatives at the press conference. However, talk quickly turned back to the continuing reality of the devastation wrought by the flood.

The combined efforts of the relief agencies in Austin/Mower County are far from over.

"Just because the water’s gone doesn’t mean that help is not still available," Red Cross director Elaine Hansen said.

"We are still continuing to help people past the reactionary stage of the disaster, trying to help them as they get back into their ‘normal’ lives," Salvation Army Maj. Linda Yeck said.

The flood clean up effort already has been tremendous. Hansen estimated the local Red Cross had spent about $150,000 already; the aid organization reported more than 2,800 meals served, 277 motel room stays provided and 261 cleanup kits distributed. The Red Cross has been working to make outreach contacts to seek out families who need help, and assisting displaced families to find and pay for temporary rental housing and to help flood victims deal with the emotional and psychological burden of their losses.

The Salvation Army has also been very busy helping people hit by the flood with clean up kits, clean up crews, food, clothes and more. Yeck said the bills already received by the Salvation Army were more than $50,000, with many more to come in. That estimate didn’t include costs for repair to the Salvation Army headquarters itself, which was one of the buildings damaged by the flood waters July 10.

The donation from Hormel brings the total in the Disaster Relief Fund to $73,000. Kramer stressed that the role of the United Way is a strictly administrative role, which allows the two aid agencies to concentrate on helping victims of the disaster and also guarantees the funds stay local.

Kramer issued his own challenge to all area businesses, service clubs and individuals to show their support to their neighbors with a contribution to the fund. Donations can be made out and sent to the United Way of Mower County Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 605, Austin. Call 437-2313 for more information.

Both Hansen and Yeck also stressed that people could still call for help or call to help. The phone number for the Red Cross is 437-4589; the number for the Salvation Army is 437-4566. Yeck added that the Salvation Army is looking for volunteers to help clean homes affected by the flood, giving as an example a woman with a serious mold allergy who is unable to clean her home alone.