‘A miracle’: Cedar Rapids neighborhood grateful for surprise aid from volunteers

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - For the Pratt family, the sight of a crew in blue vests, toting rakes and chainsaws throughout their northeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood, was a sight from the heavens.

“I saw their blue outfits, and I thought, angels,” Tracy Pratt said.

They weren’t from heaven — just Washington County — and they were volunteers from Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish, Mennonite, and Anabaptist nonprofit organization whose work includes assistance after natural disasters.

They cut down fallen trees, sawed off hanging branches, and raked lawns, all for free to any neighbor who wanted their help.

“We’re doing it just to show the love of Christ to those who are in need,” said Tyler Smidt, a volunteer with Christian Aid Ministries. “This could’ve been us down there in Wellman and Kalona, and we sure would’ve liked help, so we decided we should come up here and try to give a helping hand too where we can.”

When they and their heavy equipment showed up Wednesday, most of the families in the northeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood off Glass Road had no idea they’d be coming, or who they were.

The help started with a phone call Tuesday night. One of the Pratts’ neighbors had sold a boat a few months ago to a man from Kalona. That man, Smidt’s brother-in-law, called the family he bought the boat from to see how they were doing following Monday’s storms.

When they told him what damage their neighborhood sustained, he promised help the next morning, which arrived with the 25 Christian Aid Ministries volunteers.

“This is beyond anything we can fathom. It’s just spectacular,” Tracy’s son, Kyle, said.

The Pratts said their backyard had looked like a forest with no path.

“We just thought to ourselves, ‘How are we ever going to clean this up?’ We had a teenager and a hacksaw is what we were going to work with,” Tracy said.

But within hours, their yard went from covered in fallen trees and branches, with barely any room to walk, to a state they say might’ve looked better than it did before.

“How could we be so lucky, how could we be so blessed to have that kind of help show up just when we needed it?” Tracy said.

The assistance saved this entire neighborhood weeks of work, plus the money many of them would need to pay to clear the bigger trees.

“It truly was a big help,” Kyle said. “I helped a little bit with them, but they did all the heavy lifting. I barely had to do anything, so it’s just amazing. I really do feel lucky.”

“I saw a couple grown men crying because we showed up. That almost made me cry,” Tyler added.

For the Pratts, it was more than a helping hand. “It was just a miracle, was the only thing I could think of,” Tracy said.

One this neighborhood won’t forget for a long time.

“They were doing God’s work. That’s how they describe it, and that’s how I’d describe it,” Tracy’s husband, Richard, said. “That kind of selfless generosity is something the world could use more of.”

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