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Members across country rally around Midwest storm victims

Since flooding and ice storms ravaged parts of the Upper Midwest in April 1997, Church members in various parts of the country have rallied to help. Here are two accounts.

GRAND FORKS, N.D.Upper Midwest states, particularly North Dakota, continue to receive the arm of help so generously given since April 1997, when millions of gallons per minute of contaminated water overflowed banks and dikes in Grand Forks and other major cities of the Red River Valley.

The Fort Wayne Indiana Stake Relief Society, using member David Lutz's private plane, flew 50 handmade quilts to Grand Forks, coordinated through stake and ward Relief Society presidencies in Grand Forks. Two weeks later, the plane made a second trip, bringing a load of warm winter clothing.

Gail Myers, Relief Society president in the Fargo North Dakota Stake, said it was the third shipment of handmade quilts from other stakes.

A ward Relief Society in Wendell, Idaho, made 50 pieced and tied quilts that were packed in several boxes, but they had no way to deliver them. They were brought back by Christie Byzewski, Grand Forks 2nd Ward Relief Society president, who vacationed in Idaho with her family. Several boxes of baby clothes donated by ward members were also included.

Another quilt was handmade and donated by the Bismarck North Dakota Stake.

Sister Myers and Sister Byzewski said there have been other handmade donations, including the bags of potpourri sent from a Relief Society in San Antonio, Texas, to help Grand Forks residents ward off unpleasant odors derived from flood conditions. They also sent a bouquet of flowers to a Grand Forks sister whose husband was in the last stages of a terminal illness amidst the tragedy of the flooding of their home.



The big envelope postmarked Grand Forks, N.D., was addressed to Vera Smith in Bountiful, Utah. She eagerly pulled out a large card.

A sketched bear drawn on the front expressed a printed "Thank you." Inside, "Beary Much!" was penned across the top, with many signatures filling the page - all strangers to Sister Smith. This was an unexpected dividend from her recent service project.

Last spring, Sister Smith of the Bountiful 24th Ward read in the Church News about the flooding in North Dakota. She reasoned that the only way people "out west" could assist would be through monetary contributions. However, being a very creative widow, she has assisted with many interesting service projects.

Her glance dropped to the little stuffed "lovebear" beside her on the sofa, and she thought how children, who have lost everything, especially need someone to hug. Over the past few years, her little lovebears have brought smiles and hugs to many who have suffered.

She sent a letter to Pres. Joel C. Smith of the Fargo North Dakota Stake. (Coincidentally, he had grown up in a home across from her back fence.) Without waiting for his reply, she began to sew the bears. His response to her letter enthusiastically reaffirmed her feelings, and the number of completed lovebears quickly grew.

When her neighbor, Nicole Roundy, a Beehive in the ward, learned of the project, she wanted to help. She spent hours shredding the batting to stuff the bears. Becky Bradbury, a Laurel in the same ward, learned from Sister Smith how to make the bears and contributed 15.

By the time Pres. Smith came west for a family reunion, 125 bears filled chairs and baskets in Sister Smith's living room. The bears were carefully packed into his van.

In Grand Forks, the lovebears were given away, mostly in the 1st and 2nd wards. Bishop Carl Johnson of the 2nd Ward reported, "We took them into the nursery and the Primary where the children picked out their favorites. They were so excited as they hugged them."

His wife, Laree, added: "Most of our members are living away from their extended families, so the ward is our family. Members support and love each other.

"I can't believe how generous people have been. Months later we were still receiving blankets and rugs and small, fun items. All are deeply appreciated. But the little bears are personal treasures - truly lovebears."

As time passes, Vera Smith continues to receive and save additional choice cards and letters that express appreciation - "beary much."