Volunteer sandbaggers in Omaha and Council Bluffs won a well-earned thank you Saturday at an Omaha amusement park.
Hundreds of sandbaggers on both sides of the Missouri River this summer performed the dirty task of packing bags for use in protecting levees, buildings, electrical boxes and other items from flooding.
Fun-Plex amusement park, the Omaha Parks Foundation and the mayors of both cities thanked some of those volunteers on a warm late-summer afternoon. The amusement park allowed the sandbag volunteers in for free.
"Wasn't expected," Kristi Hopkins of Council Bluffs said of the show of appreciation. "It's nice, though."
Hopkins and her family volunteered for a day of work at the Council Bluffs sandbagging operation this summer.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle told about 60 volunteers that their work helped protect millions of dollars worth of homes and businesses.
Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan asked the group: "Remember all those damn sandbags we put together?" He joked that they should all get together again next week to tear the sandbags apart.
Nichole Kadlec of Council Bluffs and her daughters, 14-year-old Destiny and 10-year-old Mimi, volunteered twice.
Why? "Because we're a community and we stick together," Kadlec said. "And I wanted to teach my children."
The Omaha Parks Foundation invited about 4,000 people who had volunteered. Close to 500 made reservations to attend, said Amber Miller, executive director of the foundation.
Melinda Pearson, director of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department, said that as of late July, about 159,800 sandbags had been utilized on the Omaha side and 179,700 were placed into storage.
Kristi Hopkins' sons, 14-year-old Nick and 11-year-old Alex, dripped from swimming in one of the amusement park pools.
By volunteering to pack sandbags, the parents hoped to "try to teach these two a lesson about giving back to the community," father Scott Hopkins said of his sons.
Perhaps showing excellent public relations savvy, Nick suggested he had learned that it feels good to help people.
"Proud of 'em sometimes," his father responded.
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