The pounding rain began in the middle of the night. The people of Jackson, Ohio awoke to the sound then went back to sleep. The next day the rain continued, and the water began to rise. Statistics said Jackson floods once every one hundred years, but no one believed this would be the flood of the century.
People were evacuated from their homes to higher ground, leaving everything behind. Buildings in the low-lying areas were immersed in water. People watched as dogs, cats, cows and other animals were swept away. Cars and trucks were carried miles from their homes. The people felt helpless as they watched Mother Nature show her power.
My roommate, Susan, was home in Jackson that weekend of March third, 1997. When she returned to our house in "The Ghetto" of the University of Dayton, she told us of the floods and how her powder blue Beretta had been destroyed. Her grandmother was rescued while standing on her bed holding her oxygen tank, immersed to her chest in water.
I was a senior at the university, in the second phase of my student-teaching experiences. I worried about lesson plans, finding a job, where to go after graduation and leaving my friends. My worries suddenly seemed to pale in comparison to the problems of Jackson.
Susan returned to her sixth-grade student-teaching experience the following Monday. She told the story to her students and showed them pictures from the newspaper. Her inspired and compassionate students took action. They stopped raising money for their trip to Camp Kern and began raising money for the flood victims. They sold lollipops, wrote letters to the community asking for donations and collected their own money. Even first-graders donated money. Mountains of clothes, furniture and food piled up. Susan's class made Easter baskets from shoeboxes and filled them with candy and toys as well as toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes and shampoo.
She and I loaded her mom's black Chevy Beretta to the ceiling with the Easter baskets. On the trip there, I wondered what I would see; I couldn't imagine losing almost everything. Dusk was beginning to set in, and I felt nervous when we arrived. My stomach dropped when I saw some houses reduced to the railroad ties that had been their foundation. The smell of river water permeated the air. No carpet, furniture, plumbing or appliances remained. Knowing that only days ago this had been someone's home pained my heart. How many children had grown up here? What kind of memories lingered? Would the house ever be rebuilt? The monster flood had dulled its roar and retreated, but its impact would be long-lasting.
We drove from house to house, knocking on doors, ready to begin our mission. I was filled with trepidation. Would families who had been devastated by floodwater want an Easter basket? The gesture was beginning to seem useless.
"Hello, I'm Susan Moore, and this is my friend, Allison. My sixth-graders at Pennyroyal Elementary made Easter baskets for you when they heard about the flooding because they wanted to help."
Their faces lit up as they opened their gifts. As we entered one home, a husband and wife were crouched over their floor with hammer and nails. When he opened the box, he began to cry. "I can't believe those kids did this. Let me give you some money for their school." As I glanced at what was left of his home, I could not believe his generous spirit. He eventually conceded to write a thank-you note instead.
One woman ran out to find us after opening her box, tears rolling down her face. "I collected bunny rabbits, and I lost them all in the flood. There was a small pink rabbit in my box. I can start my collection again. Thank you." The burly man standing next to her also had tears in his eyes.
My heart was warmed as I played the small role of messenger in this tribute to the good in the human spirit. So often we hear of the shortcomings of our youth, but these youngsters answered a cry for help and gave proof that generosity and love prevail.