David Graves of Omaha gripped the bag tightly as a fellow volunteer poured in three overflowing scoops of sand.
Graves folded the sandbag once and heaved it onto a pile.
“You don't know whose home that sandbag might save,” said Graves, grabbing another bag.
He could have been relaxing on his day off from work, but instead he volunteered this week at Council Bluffs' Mid-America Center sandbagging operation.
Sandbagging isn't easy work. Each bag he passed along weighed between three and six pounds. That's hard on the lower back, Graves said.
After just a few repetitions, he was breathing hard.
Local officials said Graves is one of about 2,000 volunteers who have filled an estimated 1 million sandbags in the Omaha area since early June, when the Missouri River flood threat became apparent.
The sandbagging operations in the Omaha area and elsewhere in the region have drawn volunteers ranging from teenagers to retirees to College World Series visitors.
Graves' role on Thursday meant crouching on his knees underneath a makeshift sandbagging station.
An industrial-size ladder was placed horizontally across several boxes. Orange construction cones with their tops cut off were placed every few rungs of the ladder.
One volunteer dumped sand into the cones while another bagged the sand.
Frank Bruyere traveled to Omaha to watch his team, the South Carolina Gamecocks, play Friday night at the CWS.
When he heard about the flooding situation, he decided to help out.
“Omaha has been so kind to us and hospitable,” Bruyere said. “What else can you do but fill some sandbags?”
Bruyere, a retiree from Greenwood, S.C., spent several hours Thursday and Friday volunteering at the Mid-America Center.
He said the job is a lot of work, but he has enjoyed meeting people from Iowa and Nebraska.
“You get out here and the time passes,” he said.
In Omaha, Trixie Jones and Kim Nabity bonded over sweat, elbow grease and a big pile of sand at the Levi Carter Park sandbagging operation near Eppley Airfield.
The women were complete strangers before meeting this week.
“If you sweat together, I think you're friends,” said Jones, of Peoria, Ill.
Jones traveled to Nebraska to visit a friend in South Sioux City. When she saw an immediate need for sandbaggers in Omaha, she decided to volunteer.
“I wanted to do something that was very important on my 40th birthday,” said Jones, whose birthday was Friday.
Molly Mundt, 13, joined two friends and her mother, Martha, at the Mid-America Center.
Molly said she was helping out because she has friends who live in Council Bluffs' Twin City area who are concerned about flooding.
“We are doing this to help other people,” said Sadie Devine, 13.
Mundt said helping others was a good service project for her daughter and her friends. It gave them a chance to meet people from around the country who were giving of themselves.
“We worked with a man who was flying in from Seattle to see a friend, saw the floodwaters from the air and came to volunteer,'' Mundt said.
A group of about 65 teenagers from Boys Town also helped fill sandbags at the Mid-America Center for at least two hours each day this week.
They enjoyed it, said Cheryl Jones, an assistant family teacher with Boys Town.
“There's been no complaining,” she said.
Gabe Terry, 17, said he and his friends had fun socializing while doing something for a good cause.
“We get a lot of help, and it's nice to return the favor,” he said.
More volunteers are needed, said Kris Ranney, coordinator at the Council Bluffs Flood Volunteer Center at First Christian Church.
Ranney said between 50 and 75 volunteers are needed at both the Mid-America Center and the Pottawattamie County Jail. Sandbagging will take place Saturday at the jail and resume at the Mid-America Center on Monday.
“We're doing OK with our crews,'' she said, and have received a lot of interest from athletic teams, businesses and towns as far away as Kalona in eastern Iowa.
Outside groups also have donated food and beverages to some sandbagging locations.
A group of United Methodist women baked 125 dozen cookies for volunteers, Ranney said.
The American Red Cross partnered with an Arby's franchise to provide lunch. The 40-foot-long, bright red Arby's vehicle served roast beef sandwiches, chips and sodas on Wednesday.
Officials are happy with the turnout.
“It's really been impressive,” said Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker.
“For the people that want to come out and help and devote their time, a lot of times it's their days off. A lot of times it's hot and it's not the most pleasant conditions, but they want to help out.”
This report includes material from the World-Herald News Service.
Contact the writer:
* * *