In the neighborly spirit synonymous with North Dakota, some people have given out their phone numbers on radio talk shows, offering shelter to any listeners in need. The generosity is so common that even as thousands of people are driven out of their homes by the overflowing Red River, most storm shelters are virtually empty.
"There is a different flavor up here -- the type of hardworking ethic and the people helping each other up here that you don't see in a lot of cities," said Tom Hlady, who signed up through his church to take as many as nine people into his five-bedroom home.
On Monday, weary residents were grateful to see the Red River retreating after its steady, threatening climb last week. But they faced a new threat: an approaching snowstorm expected to kick up wind-whipped waves that could threaten the sandbag levees. The storm was expected to arrive Monday afternoon and persist through Tuesday evening.
Locals don't consider the outpouring of kindness at all unusual.
Their 138-year-old city was ravaged by a fire more than a century ago and tested often over the years by the Red River. Fargo, they say, is a survivor, and one neighbor watching another's back is a way of life.
Hlady and his wife are leaving this week for a vacation in Phoenix. They planned to give their home's keypad security code to the church for anyone who needs a place to stay.
"People can go in, use our food, our beds and do whatever they need to do," Pam Hlady said.
Red Cross spokeswoman Courtney Johnson said emergency shelters are being used by a relatively small number of flood victims.
On Sunday night, three shelters in Fargo, Grand Forks and Moorhead, Minn., hosted just 257 people, including about 30 firefighters. That, Johnson said, suggests that most families found other places to stay.
The spirit of outreach is all over news radio.
When sandbaggers were needed urgently in nearby Hendrum, Minn., broadcasters repeatedly gave driving directions to volunteers, and hundreds of people turned out to save the town. When someone requested a windshield for emergency airboats, a listener volunteered to make one.
One caller to WDAY said he had delivered a bunch of pizzas to the Fargodome stadium, where the sandbagging effort was based. Then he called back to say he would fetch a bunch of crayons, coloring books and puzzles.
"Where do kids need them?" he asked.
Sarah Sebranek, a social studies teacher at Fargo North High School, has seen it at every turn.
Last Tuesday, when the sandbagging effort intensified, more than half of her students did not show up for classes. When her church offered free day care so parents could help fight the floodwaters, the Red Cross showed up unannounced with peanut butter and jelly, snack chips and pint-sized cartons of milk.
Some parents who were not members of the church came by to help watch the kids. Women there had sandwich-making parties, helping feed National Guardsmen and other sandbaggers.
"We're not heroes," Sebranek said. "We just rise to the occasion."
MacKenzie Blume, a 28-year-old mother of a toddler, joined the Hladys in signing up to share her home. Her preference: Someone with a child who might enjoy her son's toys.
"I guess we do unto others as we would want done unto us, the Golden Rule thing," she said.
Jim and Bonnie Myers saw the love firsthand on Friday, after their home just north of Moorhead burned to the ground because firefighters could not get past floodwaters.
The couple, both 73, fled to a Fargo hotel, where strangers showed up with roasted chicken, cole slaw, brownies and clothing. A woman even dropped off some homemade quilts and, for the diabetic Jim, a blood-sugar monitor.
"I find it very touching, very giving," said Jim, a retired trucker. He said the charity often comes from "people who still have to fight their own fight" to save their homes.
Jay Thomas, a WDAY radio personality who has helped orchestrate the gestures of kindness, says what's happening is not out of the ordinary.
"Up here, it's the way we do things," he said.
At the Hladys' church, senior pastor Bob Ona said he feels blessed to live in such a tight-knit place.
"This will be one of those markers that we will all talk about for the rest of our lives -- how people helped each other out," he said. "I think it really makes the place attractive."
"It's good, and it's probably going to stay that way for a long, long while."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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