By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
STILLWATER, OK – It is normal to find Oklahoma 4-H’ers showing livestock at the county fair, giving a speech on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle or taking part in a robotics competition. Another typical action is to find 4-H’ers lending a helping hand in their communities. With the recent wildfires in the northwestern Oklahoma, 4-H’ers from all over the state have offered to help in any way they can.
Custer County 4-H club members have pitched in to help make sack lunches for the hundreds of firemen who were battling the blazes.
Jordan Nel, 4-H educator for Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension in Custer County, said it is important for her club members to give back to the community.
“One of my 4-H parents is a manager at the United grocery store and they’d been contacted by the Oklahoma Forestry Services to prepare sack lunches for the firemen,” Nel said.
“The store contacted us to see if we could help assemble the meals. In all, we’ve packed 1,225 lunches,” Nei added. “The Forestry Services picks up the meals and takes them to the command center that has been set up at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford (SWOSU) where many of the firemen have been housed.”
According to Nei, after school the kids helped to prep the sacks containing eight or nine items, including a candy bar, fruit, beef jerky, cookies, and silverware. The sandwiches were added the next morning before delivery.
“When I was in 4-H, citizenship was my project, so I loved seeing the kids do this and come together for the common good. The kids enjoyed it and are seeing the importance of giving back to their communities,” Nel said. “I had a parent tell me this is what she loves about 4-H and this is what 4-H is all about.”
Custer County 4-H’ers also began raising funds at Tractor Supply in Weatherford, said Radonna Sawatzky, OSU Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H Youth Development educator.
“We received $8,000 worth of donations that included feed, fencing supplies, milk replacement and veterinary supplies that went to Dewey County,” Sawatzky said. “We also were able to donate a cattle trailer full of personal items to those who lost their homes in Vici.”
In addition, the Oklahoma Home and Community Education groups in Custer, Jackson and Greer counties assembled bags with shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, washcloths and other items for the firemen staying in the dorms at SWOSU.
Liz Nicholson, 4-H educator in Canadian County, said she has nearly 50 club members, ranging from Cloverbuds to Teen Leaders, working on wildfire relief. They currently are coordinating efforts to collect items to assist with cleanup and rebuilding fences. Items such as post drivers, five-gallon buckets, trash bags and gloves are needed.
The group is also taking donations to purchase feed for horses, cattle, pigs, goats and sheep. They need milk replacement for orphaned animals.
“Our younger 4-H’ers think it’s important to help the people that help us, like the firefighters,” Nicholson said. “They don’t really understand the agricultural loss at their age, so they relate closer to the firefighters.
“The older kids have an entirely different outlook on things,” Nicholson added. “They see the damage that’s been done and are immediately wanting to know how they can help.”
Community service has long been part of the 4-H Youth Development Program.
“Our older 4-H’ers are beginning to understand not only the finances, but the work it takes to raise livestock projects. They’ve said they can’t imagine having all of that long, hard work gone in a matter of minutes, knowing there’s nothing you can do about it,” Nicholson said. “They want to help these producers salvage what they have left and rebuild what they’ve lost.”
Nicholson noted it is important to help because it is these producers who keep agriculture alive, not only by production, but by supporting youth in their livestock projects.
“We have producers who will sell animals to the kids at below market value so they can have a show experience,” Nicholson said. “More often than not, these are the people at our county premium sales bidding on the kids’ livestock projects.”
4-H’ers in Beckham County have been raising funds by placing donation cans at locations such as the Beckham County OSU Cooperative Extension Office and the Beckham courthouse.
“The money we collect will help with the expenses the fire departments have had,” said Greg Hartman, Beckham County 4-H educator. “We really want to say thank you to the men and women with the area fire department and let them know they are really appreciated.”
Jarred Campbell, 4-H educator in McCurtain County, said his club members are partnering with the McCurtain County Cattleman’s Association to organize the Posts for the Prairie Relief Fund.
“We’re accepting monetary donations to send pressure-treated fence posts to assist with ranch rebuilding effort for counties in northwest Oklahoma,” Campbell said. “All money collected will be used to purchase fence supplies to be delivered directly to the affected areas at no cost to the ranchers receiving them.
“This kind of effort helps teach our 4-H’ers that whenever a disaster strikes, the right thing to do is help where you can,” Campbell said. “We’ve taken one load of supplies already, and another load will soon be on its way.”
There are several levels of support for this effort, including single post supporter, $20; corner post supporter, $100; and full bundles supporter, which is 25 7-inch posts, $350. To make a donation, contact Jim Campbell at 580-286-7558 or [email protected].
Find out more about relief efforts at your local OSU Cooperative Extension Office online or call 405-744-5394. For more information about donating to the Wildfire Relief Fund, contact Arthur at 405-744-5390 or Jim Rhodes at 580-233-5295. To learn more about Oklahoma 4-H, visit 4h.okstate.edu.