In the wake of 1999’s unprecedented floods in eastern North Carolina, 4-H’ers throughout the nation have shown perhaps equally unprecedented and enduring generosity, confirming their pledge of “hands to larger service” and “hearts to greater loyalty.”
From across the state and nation came gifts aimed at making life a little easier for fellow 4-H’ers who’d been through so much.
In Connecticut, for example, members of the 59-year-old Franklin 4-H Variety Club — 15 boys and girls ages 7 to 15 — sold mulled cider at a farm museum open house to earn the $200 they sent to North Carolina 4-H’ers.
In Massachusetts, a club turned over its entire treasury.
Closer to home, a 4-H family in Raleigh went without Christmas presents so another family would be sure to have a happier holiday. And Harnett County 4-H’ers and their leaders traveled to Jones County to give the care packages they’d assembled to the children of Trenton Elementary, selected in part because it is home of the Boomerang 4-H Club.
The list, it seems, is endless.
In recounting the generosity shown to the 4-H families in Edgecombe County, Lesa Walton said that the kindness given over the first six months after the flooding was nearly overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that she found herself becoming more of a social worker than a 4-H agent.
Within days of the disaster, a tractor-trailer rolled in from Union County in early October, stocked with food, clothing, toys, “you name it,” she said. From Kansas came a check for $2,100. From Fargo, North Dakota, a 13-year-old girl sent photo albums, frames and glow-in-the-dark stickers in an effort she called “Operation Star Light, Star Bright.”
In January 2000, a club from Georgia sent gloves, socks and hats – just in time for a cold winter.
A group from Franklin County raised funds and renovated livestock equipment — driers, combs, brushes and more — so that 4-H’ers could participate once again in State Fair animal show events.
The desire to help fellow 4-H’ers “get their projects back” is what motivated the Franklin 4-H Variety Club to take part in the relief effort, said 13-year-old club member Christen Weingart.
Her grandmother, Patricia Weingart, said the outpouring from the club’s treasury was uncharacteristic.
“They are the tightest kids in the world — they will argue for three months over spending $4,” said Weingart, a club leader. “So when they decided they wanted to sell cider, I asked them, ‘What are you going to spend the money on?’ And that’s when they came up with the idea of contributing it to 4-H’ers in North Carolina who’d been affected by the flood — who had so much to overcome.”
Now that they’ve experienced the satisfaction that comes from knowing they have helped, club members have been eager to carry on the tradition. This year, the club sold cider again at the museum open house, this time designating their earnings to help create a library in their little town of 1,800.
“It’s just amazing to me that a tragedy of such proportions could result in a tradition of giving so far away,” said Sharon Rowland, director of the North Carolina 4-H Development Fund Inc., which helped distribute contributions.
“The optimism and hope shown by young people across this nation has been inspirational — a lesson for us all to take to heart.”
— Dee Shore