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Mississippi 4-H'ers team up for hurricane relief
By Marcus Daniels
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane Katrina gave Mississippi 4-H'ers the chance to do what they do best, and they responded by bringing sunshine and hope into the lives of devastated hurricane victims through service and contributions.
Susan Holder, state 4-H leader with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said immediately after the Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi Operation 4-H Relief was set up to channel the forces of 4-H'ers all over the state in aiding victims.
“In 4-H, we are in the business of helping people, and we are almost obnoxious about helping people,” Holder said with a smile. “We wanted to establish an effort that would allow young people in the state to help other young people suffering from the disaster.”
Holder said 4-H is a viable organization in the recovery effort because it helps to meet many basic human needs that governmental agencies seldom think about.
Letters of Caring and Hope along with Mississippi Operation 4-H Relief Activity Kits are two major campaigns created to help in the relief effort. Several 4-H organizations throughout the state are responsible for writing letters and distributing kits.
Rocheryl Richards, Hinds County 4-H agent, was one of the many Extension agents helping to meet basic human needs. Richards used 4-H Relief Kits and other fun activities with more than 1,000 displaced youth housed in shelters throughout the city of Jackson.
“I tried everything possible to make sure that the spirit of many of the children were not lost or forgotten in all the despair and confusion brought on by Hurricane Katrina,” Richards said.
“But out of everything that had gone wrong, something was very much still right; the children had not forgotten how to smile and be thankful for the bare minimums,” she said.
Richards said the 4-H activity packets were a big help in the shelters. They were created to give young evacuees something to do while away from home and to ease the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment.
Lowndes County 4-H Dreamweavers put together care packages of games, crafts and school supplies for youths staying in a Red Cross Shelter in Columbus. After assembling the packages, the 4-H members then delivered them to the shelter.
Julie White, Lowndes County 4-H agent, initiated the effort on a local level and saw that Dreamweaver members were eager to help.
“They have a pretty good understanding of what is going on with the hurricane victims,” Patrick said. “The kids were glad to give. 4-H is a very good organization for youth, and it teaches them to be involved in the community and to become adult leaders.”
In Alcorn County, Growing Kids 4-H Club and the SuperKids 4-H Club worked to help other youngsters with “Bears that Care,” a project to collect new and used teddy bears and other stuffed animals to be distributed to young storm evacuees throughout the area.
Yalobusha County 4-H members adopted Lopez Elementary School in Biloxi. The school's supply building was destroyed in the hurricane. In an effort to aid the teachers and students, the state 4-H office contributed supplies such as copier/printer paper, notebooks, supply containers, crayons, glue, scissors, folders, pencils and many other items.
While volunteers were making this delivery, they saw the school and its students had many more needs. Many of the children on the coast would not be able to celebrate Christmas with gifts this year due to family financial difficulties. The Yalobusha County Extension Service and 4-H members created “Christmas on the Coast” as a response. They will help to make Christmas a reality for students on Dec.1.
Lawrence County 4-H'ers contributed to schools on the coast as well. In a recent book drive, they collected more than 2,000 books to be distributed to south Mississippi.
The Mississippi 4-H Foundation has set up a separate account for hurricane relief. Funds will go to 4-H families and to purchase supplies for the activity boxes. Donations should be sent to: Mississippi 4-H Foundation, Box 9601, Mississippi State, MS 39762.