JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Mid-Missouri farmers, led by Rep. Tom Hurst, R-Meta, are lending a helping hand to the neighboring farmers in Kansas.
States to the west of Missouri have been fighting a drought and wildfires, which have burned hundreds of thousands of acres. Many ranchers have lost livestock, feed, and more to intense flames that have reached up to 30 or 40 feet tall. Others have lost homes. According to the Kansas Farm Bureau, wildfires have burned more than 650,000 acres. It’s being referred to as the largest fire in Kansas’ history.
Hurst and dozens of donors and businesses decided to pool resources together last week and deliver a convoy of cash, fencing supplies and feed for livestock. More than a dozen trucks and trailers left the Kingsford Charcoal Plant in Belle on Friday afternoon, making the 1,200-mile round trip to deliver the resources to their Kansas counterparts. The trip took place throughout the night, with the drivers hauling the load through rain and taking a two-and-a-half hour break to sleep.
Hurst described the landscape as blackened fields, charred grass with houses and sheds burnt, and electric poles blackened up to 20 feet high.
It began as a simple story to something good, but in turn became a full-fledged effort to pay-it-forward throughout each step of the journey.
Kansas and Missouri have been known for their longtime rivalry, but in this instance, it has been put aside in order to help those in need. Hurst said the effort is entirely the product of farmers and concerned Missourians coming together to find a way to help.
“Jimmy Zumwalt called me to say that he and a group of concerned people wanted to help those in need. The effort snowballed as word circulated, and more people have offered to help. I appreciate these good people allowing me to be a part of this effort. When you see the destruction that has occurred in Kansas, with some folks losing everything they have, your heart goes out to them and you want to do anything you can to help,” Hurst said.
Carrying 419 large bales of hay, which can weigh up to 1,000 lbs. each, the mile-long convoy steadily made their way into Kansas, delivering the goods to families in need.
One issue that had to be addressed was that of oversized loads traveling on the roadways, which carry travel time restrictions in the Show-Me State and in Kansas. But, at the request of Gov. Eric Greitens and Gov. Sam Brownback, both requested that the policies be waived to allow for the unhindered transportation of aid, and permits were issued free of charge, allowing drivers to haul hay during the curfew hours and at night.
When the trucks finally arrived on Saturday, Zumwalt said that he was amazed to see how strong the people were, often telling the trucks to continue down the road, that their neighbors needed it more than they did.
“They’re the most humble people you might ever meet. You can burn them out, but you’ll never burn them down,” Zumwalt said. “They’re strong, they’ll be back.”
Hurst and a few other trucks split off from the rest of the convoy to head north while in Kansas to deliver his load of supplies to an elder gentleman.
“It was 22 miles down a gravel road to his house,” Hurst said. “You could see where people’s houses and sheds were burnt. Everything around it was black. In his yard, there were trees that were burnt, there was a backhoe that was burnt.”
But their house had been spared.
Hurst said the man was very thankful, and to see him get choked up while talking to them, was a powerful moment.
But the efforts to help spanned farther than just helping Kansans. Zumwalt said people were so willing to help the convoy along the way, with police escorting them along the way. One truck blew two tires and was given five new tires to replace the two and other ones threatening to fail. Zumwalt said even FFA students were contributing, buying fence posts and salt blocks with the little cash they had.
Hurst and the crew’s efforts were well-received, with some wryly commenting that a Missouri state representative came to their aid before their own legislator. Zumwalt just laughed and said that it’s simply the kind of guy that Hurst is.
Since the convoy left, the effort has continued growing. Zumwalt says that over the weekend, they had raised more than $12,000 between the more than 600 t-shirts sold and donations. They’ve now set up an account at a local bank to help with the donations.
Zumwalt says he thinks there will be two more trips made to deliver more supplies, including fence posts that people have been buying and putting their names on.
“It inspiring. To see the people I represent caring for other people, not just themselves… it’s inspiring to know that there are people like that, who want to do what’s right, and help people when they’re down,” Hurst said. “This is just another example of the type of people that are in my district.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.