Wyoming Man Makes Multiple Supply Runs to Help Victims of Yellowstone Flood
They barely got out.
Matthew Thomas and his wife lived in Red Lodge, Montana up until a week-and-a-half ago. Thomas got a job offer and the couple moved to Cody, Wyoming.
A few days later, Yellowstone National Park flooded, and Red Lodge became part of the collateral damage.
NBC Montana reported that, as of Tuesday, half of Red Lodge was still without water. The Mayor of the town stated that they were in need of "basic services."
“Last night was the first night that we had both water and power, but that's only true for half the town. The other half of the town east of Broadway still doesn't have water, because there are still some problems with the water mains,” Mayor Kristen Cogswell stated, according to NBC Montana.
While city officials are working to rebuild the town, residents were in need of basic necessities, like food, water, pillows, blankets, and more.
So Matthew Thomas and James Ries got to work.
Ries, the owner of Nerd Nation IT in Cody, Wyoming first approached Thomas and asked if he'd be willing to help out.
"So James said to me, 'You saw what's happening in Red Lodge,' and I said 'Yeah, it's terrible,'" Thomas told K2 Radio News. "So he asked if I'd want to go down with him to deliver two pallets of water."
Thomas immediately agreed and they began the drive to Red Lodge.
They pulled up to the Red Cross location in Red Lodge and Thomas had to put any preconceived notions to rest.
"I was thinking that Red Lodge has a lot of well-to-do people and wasn't really expecting anybody to be at the Red Cross," Thomas stated. "But there were a lot of people there and there were not enough supplies. I was looking around and there were cots and things like that, but there were no blankets, no pillows, no food, nothing. So I started talking to the guy in charge of the Red Cross and I asked him what they needed."
The man gave Thomas a list of everything that was needed, and it was a long one.
"So I did a Facebook Live video standing next to one of the roads that was washed out," Thomas stated. "I posted it to Cody Classifieds or whatever and I just said, 'Hey, we're in Red Lodge and this is what we need. If anyone wants to help out, I'm gonna start taking donations and we're gonna make this a thing.'"
It most definitely turned into 'a thing.'
Thomas said that the video, by that night, had more than 6,000 views. His inbox was full of messages with people asking how they could help.
"So, we just made a list of everything that the Red Cross said they needed," Thomas said. "We needed pillows, we needed blankets, we needed food. And so many different people and businesses reached out."
Thomas said that people offered supplies, they offered money, they offered use of their trucks. It was truly a collaborative effort. Even the church that Thomas attends offered their parking lot as a drop off locations.
"We just had person after person after person after person bringing stuff," Thomas said. "I told people we had like, an hour-and-a-half window before we made another trip, so we said 'Whatever you can bring in an hour-and-a-half.' And there was a car every 30 seconds dropping stuff off. I loaded up my wife's van, we loaded up James' truck, we filled up another truck and still had more stuff than we could fit."
Once Thomas and Ries dropped off supplies at Red Lodge, officials told them that outpourings had been huge for their town, and they asked if the two men would be willing to drop off some supplies to neighboring towns that were currently being evacuated.
"So we drove to the community center in Columbus, Montana," Thomas said. "We got there and there were no cots, no pillows, no blankets, no food, no clothes, no nothing. They just had, like, two or three pallets of water and that was it. They were expecting a large amount of people to be there that night and the following few days. So we just unloaded everything and they were the most grateful people."
Thomas said he and his people are now on "standby," just waiting to hear what the next needs are, and where they're actually needed.
"I'm ready to go all weekend," Thomas proclaimed. "We've got the people to do it and we'll make the trip. But right now we're just going to wait and see. We've got the contact information for Red Cross people and we'll call them this weekend to find out where the greatest need is."
He reiterated that, especially in Columbus, Montana, there are all sorts of needs for supplies still, from cots, to pillow and blankets, food, and more.
"Non-perishable food would be huge," he said. "And then something we were thinking about as well is the fact that a lot of these towns have their power completely knocked out. So a way to actually cook food, like a miniature camp stove or something would be huge."
Those who want to donate can message Thomas via his Facebook profile, he said.
Thomas and his wife were lucky to get out of Red Lodge when they did. Had they waited around for another week, there's a good chance they could have lost their home, their car, their entire livelihoods. The timing of that is not lost on Thomas, and it's one of the reasons he was so intent on helping out however he could.
Another reason was his faith.
"I'm not doing this for attention," Thomas said. "I'm not doing it for publicity. I'm doing it because, and this may sound weird to some people, but I'm doing it because this is what Jesus has called us to do. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and our neighbors are everyone. It's not just your next door neighbor or people living across the street from you. We're called to love everyone and to show them the same love that Christ showed us. And that's the motivation I had behind this."
Conversations about God can be tricky, but it was Thomas' faith, and his desire to help his neighbors, that led to him making multiple trips to his former hometown to make sure that his people, his neighbors, were okay.
And religion aside, isn't that what all of us should do? When tragedies happen, when things go wrong, when we're given a chance to help, we can either stand on the sidelines, offering kind words, thoughts, and prayers, or we can roll up our pants and get to work.
That's what Matthew Thomas, James Ries, and so many others have done since the floods first started happening in Yellowstone and beyond. They got to work. And even though Thomas is fairly new to Wyoming, he already embodies exactly what this state represents: courage, selflessness, kindness, compassion, and the unrelenting desire to take care of our own.
So when the floodgates open, it's up to us to stand arm-in-arm with each other, to reach out a hand and pull others from the tide. That's what Thomas, Ries, and these other people did. They gave what they had, and they did what they could. And they'll continue to do so. Because when tragedies unfold, there's not much we can do except rebuild.
And we will rebuild.
Photos of Thomas' trip, including shocking images of the flood, can be seen below: