It's a mission project started by a member of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Hammond, who asked that his name be withheld. He's retired from the Louisiana Department of Transportation, but not from the small spread he farms near Loranger, where about 20 head of beef cattle graze.
"I was at home, watching the news, and you could see how bad it was out there ," the mission project catalyst said. "I love missions and wanted to help. Then I left my house and as I was driving I saw leftover hay from last year in a barn. That's when it hit me: Why don't I find out how many barns have leftover hay they'd donate?"
Most everybody did, he found out. "From there it just took off. I started calling Baptist churches in Texas to see who had need, and that's how it started."
The donor has been a member of Woodland Park Hammond for about four years, associate pastor Randy Ray said.
"He went on a medical mission trip with me a year ago to El Salvador and that really stepped him up as far as his focus on missions," Ray said. "He went to Kentucky earlier this year on a construction project and he went to northern Mississippi with tornado relief a couple of months ago. When he came back, he organized a chainsaw unit for our association, and now we have a really nicely equipped chainsaw trailer."
The haylift ministry focuses on farmers with not too much acreage nor too many cattle.
"We're just helping the little guys, those with, say, 20 to 50 head ," the mission project catalyst said on Aug. 10. "We've been hauling for three weeks and will continue another three weeks for farmers who have run out of hay and grass.
"We can take only 17 round bales on a gooseneck, and 38 to 40 on an 18-wheeler," the donor continued. "We've taken it to Jacksonville, Texas, and from there it's gone as far as west as Abilene. We've got hay in Austin, Huntsville and Blessing, Texas. We're dealing mostly with Baptist churches so it's delivered fairly and is not being sold."
Because of the unprecedented drought -- Texas is in its driest 10 months in more than 100 years -- grain feed isn't growing. It costs $90 to $120 these days for a round bale of hay in Texas, up from perhaps $40 in non-drought conditions, when not much would be needed anyway, the Louisiana farmer explained. People are being forced to sell their cattle because of the drought.
"A lady called yesterday," the mission project catalyst said. "They have about 40 head that she was fixing to have to sell when she heard about this. 'Get to Vinton, La., and you can have all 39 rolls we've got there. Y'all can have the hay, no cost.' When I said that, she started breaking down, crying. I started crying myself and we had to hang up; we couldn't talk. That's what this is all about -- helping people in the name of Jesus."
As of Aug. 10, Woodland Park and Ebenezer Baptist churches, both in Hammond, were involved in the Texas haylift, and all the hay has come from farms in the Loranger area. Northshore Baptist Association and the Louisana Baptist Convention disaster relief each have contributed $1,000 toward what the convention's disaster relief director, Gibbie McMillan, calls a "disaster because of drought."
Transportation and fuel for the hay bales are donated.
"Anybody anywhere could do the same thing we're doing," the mission project catalyst said. "Seems like once you start something, everybody wants to help.... It's a small operation, I would call it. We're not trying to hay Texas. We're just trying to help people; we kinda push that, this is a ministry.
"What I'm having a problem is getting the hay from the edge of Texas further west, like San Antonio," he continued. "I'm having a real problem with that."
More than 90 percent of Texas is in the two most extreme stages of drought. An updated government weather map shows the drought holding firm -- if not intensifying -- through at least October.
Lonnie Wascom, director of missions for Northshore Baptist Association, said he is amazed to think hay from Louisiana is helping in Texas.
"Southeast Louisiana is known for a lot of things -- great festivals, food, fishing, hunting, football, swamp people, swamp loggers and others, even truck farming, but not ranching," Wascom said. "Texas has ranches bigger than some of our parishes and we are sending hay to them? Sending shrimp, crawfish, strawberries and any number of other truck farm crops would make sense, but for us to be sending hay, are you kidding me? I find it to be simply wonderful!"
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Individuals interested in helping with the haylift may contact Woodland Park Baptist Church at 985-345-4013.
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