Twenty years ago this month, people along the Red River in Minnesota, North Dakota and Southern Manitoba experienced the worst flood of the area since 1826.
Homes and businesses were destroyed. Lives were swept up in a torrent of emotional and financial ruin. An entire geographic area was collectively exhausted.
Yet, when the river finally returned to its banks, along with a path of destruction, we discovered a trail of kindness.
Laura Carley of Fargo vividly remembers the smell that permeated the house when her basement fuel tank filled with flood water.
She remembers learning for the first time that a pool table could float.
And she remembers the people who showed up in her time of need.
“In 1957 my family home was destroyed by the tornado that went through Fargo, and 40 years later, in 1997, my family home was hit by a flood.
“It is hard to think back on that time period without thinking of the many people who stepped up for us as we tried to keep back the river.
“We lived south of Fargo and were outside of the city limits, so the process of obtaining sand and sandbags was up to each homeowner.
“However, once the word got out that we needed people to help build the dike, volunteers came from all over. They would use up the sand we had and then move on to another house. When we had more sand, there always seemed to be a new parade of people who would help fill and place the bags.
“The Salvation Army came by with sandwiches and drinks, friends made sure food appeared in our kitchen along with paper plates to eat it on. Thinking back on the process, it was nothing short of amazing.
“Ultimately, our dike collapsed. Needless to say we were devastated.
“Thankfully a mentor of mine advised me to take the time to mourn the loss of our house and taught me to open up to the kind people who wanted to help. Until you need it, you have no idea how hard it is to accept help from others. We were used to offering a helping hand, not reaching out for one.
“We learned a lot as a community throughout that flood event, but the biggest lesson was the huge hearts filled with kindness that people in this area have.
“Twenty years later, I still use my Red Cross cleaning bucket for flowers every April and make certain we give to both the Salvation Army and the Red Cross so they can continue to help in times of trouble.”
In the minds of many people, words like “Fargo,” “Grand Forks” and “April” bring to mind other words like “sandbag,” “river” and “flooding.” But thankfully, they also bring to mind the faces of friends and strangers who calmed the storm with kindness.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Friday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.