Hay train speeds relief


PLEASANT CITY, OHIO (February 28, 2000) -- Mennonite Disaster Services of Upper Michigan and Wisconsin loaded 27 train cars of hay this weekend to be delivered next week to Point Pleasant, W. Va., in the midst of the drought-stricken mid-Atlantic states.

The shipment will go to approximately 200 farms in southeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, western Virginia, and western Maryland.

"I'm surprised and very excited that the shipment is coming," said Mary Woodward, director of Lutheran Social Services in southeastern Ohio, based in Pleasant City. She has helped save at least 100 family farms by finding and having hay transported as far away as Nebraska. During the past four months, she has facilitated the shipment of more than 1,000 tons of hay to drought-stricken southeast Ohio, 100 miles southeast of Columbus, through Lutheran Disaster Response. The Church of the Brethren will be assisting with the delivery of some of the hay.

On Monday or Tuesday the 27 Wisconsin Central railroad cars will leave Upper

Michigan for Chicago. In Chicago CSX railroad will pick up the cars and bring them to Point Pleasant, W.Va.

Each car holds as much hay as four semi-trucks.

Woodward, a United Methodist laywoman, said she will meet on Monday with CSX officials in Point Pleasant to arrange for the delivery of the 1,500 tons of hay anticipated to help at least 200 farmers in 20 counties. This shipment should sustain cattle through the last winter months.

The railroads are volunteering their services at the request of U.S. senators

Spencer Abraham of Michigan and Mike DeWine of Ohio. "What the senators and railroads are doing in days, took me four months to accomplish," said Woodward.

Woodward will be in Point Pleasant Monday and Tuesday to sign-up farmers for

delivery. Lutheran Disaster Response will be responsible for the distribution.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Domestic Disaster Response, with ELCA Domestic Hunger, has actively participated in an ecumenical hay drive since August of last year.

Johanna Olson, of ELCA Domestic Disaster Response based in Chicago, said,

"Thus far we have kept around 260 family farms going in southeast Ohio, West Virginia and parts of northeast Pennsylvania. Known as the Family Farm Drought Response Coalition, it is a group of disaster response agencies composed of Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Church of the Brethren Emergency Response Service Ministries, Church World Service, Mennonite Disaster

Service and us."

So far more than 300 tractor trailer loads have come out of the Midwest to help hundreds of farmers in critical need -- well over 4,000 tons of hay -- in the five state mid-Atlantic drought-stricken area.

"This partnership has taken on real action for Lutheran efforts thanks to

collaboration with Southern Ohio Synod, Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio, WV-Western Maryland Synod, Northeast Pennsylvania Synod, and Orphan Grain Train," said Olson.

Olson said the effects of drought are cumulative in nature. "Last summer's

drought in the mid-Atlantic and eastern midwest regions caused many independent beef farmers to start using hay intended for winter as early as July. This shortage resulted in premature livestock herd being sold at below market weight, and very little hay for cattle to survive the winter. And this is just impact to the beef farmers."

Woodward said she helped more than 100 farmers get through the drought this winter. Only three farmers in her area sold out their cattle this winter because of the drought.

"Once you're out of water, you're out, except for the crying," said David

Workman, agricultural agent for Hardy County in West Virginia. Farmers come into his office every day to tell him how dry the land still is.

The effects of the drought also have an emotional impact. County Agricultural Agent Workman speaks with great concern over farmers and their families. Morale is low, said Olson. The Northeast Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA is seeking to address low morale in their area. In cooperation with the county extension agent and Lutheran Brotherhood, they're sponsoring a buffet meal and hoe-down for farm families.

Initiatives are also being furthered in the midwest and in Pennsylvania to

celebrate Rogation Days. This is a custom dating back to the 5th century to ask God's blessing on crops and land.

"The need continues and with the cost of gasoline increasing, donations can

play a critical role," said Olson.

Posted February 28, 2000

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