Volunteers step up to deliver thousands of meals during flood

Meet the Bertram Brown Bag Committee

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BERTRAM TOWNSHIP — When Stephanie Berberich and Sue Wolrab decided to do what they could to help those affected by the flood, they were expecting a molehill of response.

Instead, they got a mountain.

Inside Bertram Township Hall, southeast of Cedar Rapids, an effort has boomed to include hundreds of volunteers working to make thousands of meals for those displaced by the floodwaters of the Cedar River, as well as those working around the clock to prepare and defend the city for the worst.

Dubbed the “Bertram Brown Bag Committee,” volunteers have been using donated food to deliver free meals since Sunday.

“We thought we’d only be here a day or two. It’s just the outpouring of the community that has really kept us going,” Wolrab said.

Berberich said on Sunday, around 2,800 meals were delivered. Volunteers handed out another 2,200 on Monday and 1,700 on Tuesday.

“To know what we’re doing affects immediate needs is wonderful,” Berberich said.

The idea to form the Bertram Brown Bag Committee was sparked last week by Berberich and Wolrab. After seeing the flood preparations in the NewBo district, Wolrab said she started the 2016 Flood of Cedar Rapids Facebook page to help residents coordinate information. The page now has more than 8,880 likes.

Wolrab said many individuals began asking for places to donate food and other items.

“(Berberich) said, ‘You know, I have access to the Bertram Township Hall. We can just put it out there to have people bring stuff here,’ ” Wolrab said. “And that’s really how it got started.”

They opened the doors to the operation on Sunday. There is no formal organization to the Bertram Brown Bag; volunteers can come and go as they please, and donations are dropped off randomly throughout the day at the hall, 211 Angle St.

Each meal consists of sandwiches in a brown paper sack, as well as whatever chips, snacks or fruit volunteers have on hand.

Berberich said they have been delivering 325 meals a day to the National Guard Armory in Cedar Rapids for soldiers helping with the flood efforts. Meals have also been donated to employees with Alliant Energy, UnityPoint Health clinics, fire stations, hotels and animal shelters, among others.

Jodie Houghtaling, a Bertram resident and a volunteer at the Township Hall since Monday, said she’s satisfied being able to do something to lend a hand.

“There are no words,” Houghtaling said. “It’s just amazing. The feeling you get from giving is just more than anything you can buy.”

Berberich said there’s no plan to stop anytime soon.

“We’re going until we’re not needed anymore,” Berberich said.

It’s just been an outpouring of community support, Wolrab added. Whenever volunteers are facing a shortage of an item — such as breakfast or lunch meat — Wolrab said they put a call on Facebook.

Business from the area — including Fareway, Lowe’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Hy-Vee — and individuals from all over have dropped off various items to support the effort.

The group is also accepting non-perishable food items and cleaning supplies to help in the recovery effort once the floodwaters recede.

Hundreds of volunteers — many with their children — have donated their time to the cause, which is especially meaningful to Berberich.

“So many seeds are being planted,” she said. “That’s what means the most to me, especially after my stroke, that I’m planting seeds of giving.”

Berberich said she suffered a postpartum stroke in October 2008 and still feels the impact to this day. In fact, she was in the Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids on Friday because of a 10-day migraine. But she didn’t let that slow her down.

Berberich’s outlook on life following her stroke is the same outlook she says Cedar Rapids has with this week’s flood.

“We’re not letting the flood define us,” she said. “We’re defining the flood. That’s the same with my stroke. I’m not letting it define me.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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