Red Cross volunteer keeps sandbaggers fedCoordinating food for thousands of sandbagging volunteers is daunting, but Nancy Young has proven she has the stomach for it. The former hairdresser learned the grub-getting ropes as a rookie Red Cross volunteer during the 2006 Red River flood in Fargo-Moorhead. Now in her third year as mass care feeding manager for the Minn-Kota Chapter of the American Red Cross, Young has established herself as a cog in the metro area’s flood-fighting machine — to the extent her mass feeding team has dubbed her “the sheriff.”
By: By Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications co., The Jamestown Sun
Coordinating food for thousands of sandbagging volunteers is daunting, but Nancy Young has proven she has the stomach for it.
The former hairdresser learned the grub-getting ropes as a rookie Red Cross volunteer during the 2006 Red River flood in Fargo-Moorhead.
Now in her third year as mass care feeding manager for the Minn-Kota Chapter of the American Red Cross, Young has established herself as a cog in the metro area’s flood-fighting machine — to the extent her mass feeding team has dubbed her “the sheriff.”
“I think they mean that because I yell at them all the time,” she joked.
Greg Voss, regional executive director of the Minn-Kota Chapter, said Young’s bubbly personality has been instrumental in enlisting restaurants, grocery stores and other groups to keep volunteers well-fed on the sandbagging lines.
“I think it is a really cool collaboration, and it’s because of her spirit to get these restaurants to help out,” Voss said.
When she’s not volunteering in the flood fight, Young works as a barista at a south Fargo coffee shop and does administrative work part time for the Minn-Kota Chapter.
It’s a big change for the 60-year-old, who quit her career as a hairdresser after 37 years because “it was time to get out and do something more fun.”
Thrilled with response
At Sandbag Central on Monday, Young raised a hand to her right ear and pushed the answer button on the earpiece linked to her cell phone.
“OK,” she told the woman on the other end, “we’ll get that, the bread and the meat and the containers over to you this afternoon. OK, thanks much.”
The call for supplies came from First United Methodist Church in Fargo, where members are making 500 sandwiches per day for sandbagging volunteers. Messiah Lutheran is doing the same, said Young, who had just picked up 100 sandwiches and 100 cookies from the Simonson station on Main Avenue and delivered them to Sandbag Central.
All in a day’s work, which for Young typically means 12 to 14 hours during flood season.
“Between the feeding operation and her other administrative role … she’s here all the time,” Voss said.
The skills Young learned chatting up salon clients have come in handy as she solicits food donations —though it’s not a tough sell, she said, noting metro businesses have been “amazing” in their willingness to donate.
“There were a few that I didn’t get answers from, and there was only two out of all that I called that said no, so I was very thrilled with the response we got,” she said.
Doing their best
The advance warning of the potential for spring flooding this year meant more time to coordinate food, and it’s resulted in better offerings for volunteers. Young said they try to provide at least one hot meal a day and mix up the menu from day to day.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by volunteers and city workers.
“Those of us that are here every day, 12-hour days, 10-hour days, it’s a blessing to have the hot food,” said Jesse Schmidt, public information officer at Sandbag Central. “It really is uplifting, and it really does improve morale.”
The Red Cross and Salvation Army, which alternate days providing food at Sandbag Central, “have done just a fantastic job of taking care of us and our needs,” Schmidt said.
Young knows the hard work of sandbagging. Her home in St. Benedict just south of Fargo is frequently threatened by flooding, prompting her to make improvements to the property after 1997 and 2009.
“I’ve used the sandbags. I’ve filled the sandbags. I’ve placed the sandbags. I’ve parked my car a half a mile away and wore waders to get home each night,” she said.
And she knows from experience that it’s all easier to do on a full stomach.
“We figure the more food we stuff in them, the longer they can work,” she said, laughing. “If they say, ‘Can I have two sandwiches?’ we say, ‘Take three. If it’ll keep you working, take three.’”
When Sandbag Central reaches its 3-million-bag goal, there will likely be a lull before sandbagging moves into neighborhoods and the Red Cross puts its mobile feeding units into action, Young said.
As of noon Tuesday, 11,561 volunteers had put in time at Sandbag Central, Schmidt said. The Red Cross also is providing food at sandbagging operations for Moorhead and Cass County.
“We’re just here to do the best job we can and feed as many people as we can and make life a little bit easier on them,” Young said.
Mike Nowatzki is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.