Last week, Oxford resident Tara Norland watched the news footage of Hurricane Harvey and its unprecedented flooding and felt inspired to help the people of Texas.
“I was sitting in my chair and said, ‘I just have to do something to help these people’ because I’ve been there,” said Norland, who works for Under Armour in Wisconsin Dells.
The result of her improvised efforts will be two trailer loads of goods leaving Portage at 6 p.m. Saturday, bound for hard-hit Beaumont, Texas.
Norland lost everything in a 2012 Portage fire and said her desire to help stems from the help she received when she and her family needed it most.
“It got a little bigger than I anticipated,” Norland said of the Wisconsin Helping Texas effort, which she started with a few phone calls. Volunteers and donors so far include Big O’s Trailers in Portage, which donated a 22-foot trailer; Scott Thompson, owner of the Wisconsin Dells bar Fur, Fin and Feather, who donated his truck to pull that trailer; John Shultis of Walsh Cargo in Lyndon Station, who donated a 53-foot semi-trailer, which he will drive; and Gumz Farms in Endeavor, which donated 8,000 pounds of potatoes and onions.
“We just had three people drop off bags of stuff,” said Tamara Jones of Grand Marsh. Jones was among the group of four women organizing the trailer goods at Walmart on Wednesday afternoon. The effort was moved to the Aldi store parking lot along New Pinery Roady, Norland said.
“It gives me goose bumps,” Michelle Duerst said of the support for Texas she’s seen so far. Duerst and her husband, Jamie — like Norland — lost their DeForest home and everything in it in a 2010 house fire. Duerst works in the health care industry in Lake Delton and she and her husband own Duerst Construction, which donated $500. She spoke for only a few minutes, but during that time two other shoppers exiting Walmart had already donated to the cause.
“To see all the generosity,” she said, “it gives a good sense of your neighbors and community.”
So far Wisconsin Helping Texas has raised enough to fill about half the space in the two trailers, Norland estimated. They hope to fill them by 6 p.m. Saturday. Those interested in donating may stop by the Aldi parking lot or call Norland at 608-617-3765.
The group started collecting on Sunday. Norland and the other volunteers usually are on site each day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. — or sometimes much later. “I was here until 8 p.m. last night,” Norland said Wednesday.
“We’re taking everything from clothing to furniture and appliances,” Norland said, but money, water and food are prioritized.
For full a list desired supplies and several other drop-off locations in the area, search Wisconsin Helping Texas on Facebook.
“I took a couple of days off work to help,” Duerst said. “We’ve been posting this all over social media.”
The effort may not end when the trailers leave Portage on Saturday.
“Our next load might be going to Florida,” Norland said. “(Hurricane) Irma is looking dangerous, but I’m more than willing to put it together if I can get the community to do this again.”