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"It's humbling': Groups come together at Omaha zoo to help families affected by flooding
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"It's humbling': Groups come together at Omaha zoo to help families affected by flooding

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Former neighbors whose homes were flooded in Pacific Junction, Iowa, reunited during a free day at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on Sunday. From left are Katie and Julie Flora and Kylee and Amy Kanouff.

A relaxing day at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium was a welcome relief for two Iowa families still overcoming setbacks from spring’s Missouri River flooding.

“It’s humbling,” Julie Flora, now of Council Bluffs, said Sunday of the free visit to the zoo. “I cried when we first checked in. Just to know that people still cared.”

Flora brought her daughters, Katie and Zada, for a day away from thinking about all the things they lost when they were forced to leave their home in Pacific Junction. They met with their former neighbors, Amy and Harry Kanouff, and their daughters, Kylee and Harleann.

Kellogg Co. and Boxed, an online wholesale retailer, partnered with the United Way of the Midlands to help local families still struggling in the aftermath of this spring’s devastating flooding in Nebraska and Iowa. About 1,500 vouchers were mailed to flood families for a free day at the zoo — complete with concessions, face painting, a photo booth, crafts and games.

A number of nonprofit agencies were also at the event to answer questions about their services. The agencies included Lutheran Family Services, Legal Aid of Nebraska, Legal Aid of Iowa and the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project.

The flood relief drive is the first joint philanthropic program for Kellogg and Boxed. The public can visit through Friday to purchase bulk groceries and other supplies that United Way of the Midlands will distribute.

The site features Kellogg’s breakfast items and snacks, nuts, juice boxes and water. Supplies like laundry soap, paper plates, diapers and toiletries are also available.

Flora said restocking an entire household is a daunting task. Items she never considered needing in March come to mind in November.

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“As the seasons have changed, I start to look for different things,” Flora said. “I don’t have everything in the basement anymore. I don’t have the winter coats and flannel sheets that I would be getting out.”

Those stressful days are the reason Kellogg wanted to help with a day at the zoo, said Benjamin Schorr, senior manager of philanthropy and social impact for the cereal maker. Kellogg employees volunteered to help with the games and craft tables.

“I was noticing that in the medium and long term, people are still suffering,” Schorr said. “We wanted to do something around the holidays to give joy to these kids and their parents.”

The on-site event is a first for Boxed, said Ravyn Garcia, a vendor marketing coordinator for the company. The Boxed website was designed “to be a seamless way for people to help people,” she said.

“We make it so people can easily get items like bottled water to the families through the United Way,” Garcia said. “Omaha is our first event like this, but we’ve donated pallets and pallets of food to communities in need across the country.”

Garcia, who lives in New York City, said she has been touched by what she’s learned about the flooding.

“I met a family that had just got back into their home after seven months,” she said. “Stories like that ... make us want to make an impact on their lives.”

Shawna Forsberg, president and CEO of United Way of the Midlands, continues to be impressed by the way the people of Iowa and Nebraska reach out to help their neighbors affected by the floods.

“Right after the flooding our communities responded in such a beautiful way,” Forsberg said. “We are keeping that going.”

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