I walked into the kitchen. Ron was having a cup of coffee. I asked, "What do the words hay...drought...south mean to you?" He told me there was a terrible drought in the South. Fields were parched, and farmers were losing their cattle because the animals didn't have any hay or feed.
I knew how I'd feel if our cattle were dying. "Ron," I said, "that explains my message." I described the cryptic words and the urgency that had overcome me.
"So what are you going to do about it?" Ron asked.
I had no idea. I didn't know anybody important. I was just a farmwife and a part-time cashier. God, I implored, find someone else to help those farmers.
But later that day when I was chatting with folks at my checkout counter, I kept thinking, hay...drought...south. The words wouldn't leave my mind.
At church on Sunday, I reminded God that the drought in the South wasn't really something I could do anything about. Yes, we had some hay to spare, but how could we move it down south? By Monday morning, when the urging just wouldn't go away, I made a few calls to put the matter to rest. I spoke to some other local farmers. Sure, they'd be glad to donate hay, but there was no way they could send it to the ravaged areas. As for our state's ag department, they hadn't organized a thing. "See, Father," I said, "if they aren't going to do anything, how can I? Please, find someone else."
By noon, I did the only thing I could think of. On the highway, I'd often seen trucks from Steelcase, a huge office furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids. Maybe they would ship hay. If I made this one call I could be done with it. After all, who'd take me seriously? I looked up Steelcase's number in the phone book and dialed. Almost immediately, I was connected with a woman in public relations. To my amazement, she gave me the CEO's private number. Before I lost my nerve, I called and reached his secretary.
"What would you like to speak to him about?" she asked. "If I told you, dear," I said, "you'd round-file me as a nut."
"How many trucks would you need, Mrs. Silver?" he asked.
"Twenty," I said without a pause. Where did that number come from?
"Expect a call from Mr. Marlotti. He should be able to help you."
Half an hour later, when Mr. Marlotti did call, telling me that he was instructed to give me whatever I needed, I hooted into the phone. At that moment, I realized this was much bigger than me. All I could do was follow.
OK, God, I prayed, you win. I'll do what you want, but you have to help me along the way.
He did. That day I got a hold of Bill Penn, director of the U.S. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Department in Lansing. He promised to send a rep to our house to meet with the Steelcase people and folks from the state ag department so we could coordinate shipments of hay to the South. Meanwhile, someone from Bill's office set up a 1-800 telephone number to our house. The "Michigan Haylift" was under way.
When the media got hold of the story, broadcasters and newspapers announced,"Call 1-800-Hay-Farm to donate or help ship hay." All those people ended up calling me.
Twenty-four hours a day, the phone in our kitchen rang. We even had an extra line added. People would try to dump hay in our front yard. Reporters interviewed me at the checkout counter at work. Finally, my supervisor suggested I take some time off. "I want you to devote yourself to the hay project," he said. Amen, I thought.
Sometimes, I didn't know how I'd manage. One day, I was sitting in my kitchen when the phone rang. "We've got 500 bales of hay over here in the Thumb." (Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and the eastern peninsula is referred to as the Thumb.)
"Hang on," I replied, checking the map. "We'll get to you." Then I prayed,God, send me someone who can pick up 500 bales of hay, 150 miles away, and get them to the first convoy of semis going south.
I hadn't even hung up when the other line rang. "I've got an empty truck," a man said.
"How can I help?"
"I know just where you're needed!" Things like that kept happening.
On July 24, Bill Penn called from Lansing. "We need you here for a meeting with all the government departments who are involved. I want them to hear from you about what's happening."
I panicked. There was no way I could appear at a meeting in the capital. "I can't," I said. "I can't leave these phones. I can't drive in big cities, and I can't leave the farm."