By Trisha Gedon

STILLWATER, Okla. – It is a pretty normal occurrence 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.

Something else that is normal is to find these club members lending a helping hand in their communities. With the recent wildfires in the northwestern part of the state, 4-H’ers from all over Oklahoma have stepped up to the plate to help in any way they can.

For club members in Custer County, that help has come in the form of making sack lunches for the hundreds of firemen who were out 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. 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 because many of the firemen have been housed there.”

The kids go in after school to help prep the sacks, which contain eight or nine items, including a candy bar, fruit, beef jerky, cookies, silverware and whatever else is available. The sandwiches are added the next morning before delivery.

“When I was in 4-H, citizenship was my project, so I love seeing the kids do this and come together for the common good. The kids are enjoying 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 are helping in other ways, too. A group helped accept donations 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 put together bags with shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, washcloths and other small 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 also is taking donations of feed for horses, cattle, pigs, goats and sheep. They also 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. They don’t really understand the agricultural loss at their age, so they relate closer to the firefighters,” Nicholson said. “The older kids have an entirely different outlook on things. They see the damage that’s been done and are immediately wanting to know how they can help.”

Helping out in the community is nothing new to Oklahoma 4-H’ers. 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 because they know that despite the relief efforts, they still have a long road ahead.”

Nicholson also noted it is important to help because it is these producers who keep agriculture alive and thriving, not only by production, but by supporting youth in their livestock projects, as well.

“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 also are helping with wildfire relief. Monetary donation cans have been set out at the Beckham County OSU Cooperative Extension Office, as well as the courthouse and other local businesses.

“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.”

Although they are nowhere near the fires, club members in McCurtain County, wanted to step up and help, too.

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.”

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. Any other amounts are appreciated.

“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. “I’m proud of what our kids have done and will do in the days ahead. We’ve taken one load of supplies already, and another load will soon be on its way.”

To help with any of these efforts, or to find out what relief efforts are taking place in your county, contact your local OSU Cooperative Extension Office.

Source: Oklahoma State University Extension