By Michele F. Mihaljevich
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Helping local communities during the coronavirus pandemic was the goal behind Indiana 4-H Foundation grants distributed in April and May, the foundation’s executive director said.
The foundation partnered with county Purdue University extension offices on the project, Shelly Bingle explained. County offices came up with ideas for the money and applied for a share of the funding. The foundation gave $40,285 to 44 counties.
4-H leaders in some counties used the funds to develop community or container gardens, support area food pantries or supply food to school-age children and the elderly. Other projects included the installation of handwashing stations at a local farmer’s market, the purchase and distribution of board games for families to play at home and the purchase of no-touch thermometers for youth-serving organizations and government offices.
Of the total distributed by the foundation, $25,000 came from the Nola Gentry Charitable Trust. A foundation board member gave $7,500 and the rest came from fundraising, Bingle said. County offices could request $500-$1,000 for their projects.
“We allowed the counties to pick whatever projects they thought would be the most impactful for their counties,” she noted. “We did want the projects to involve the community with volunteers and staff working together.”
Gentry, a former foundation board member, died in 2018.
“We wanted the projects to be for basic needs in the community,” Bingle stated. “We’d been talking about how many people had been laid off (due to coronavirus) and were struggling. We were thrilled with the response (from the offices). They all just rose to the occasion. It’s good to see positive things happening in the world and to have an impact.”
In Owen County, discussions about creating a sharing garden were already underway when the extension office heard about the grants, said Jennifer Abrell, the county’s 4-H youth development extension educator. A 4-by-40 space in front of the extension building was cleared out and replaced with cedar boards and fresh dirt. An old rain barrel system also needed to be replaced.
The garden has kale, chard, pole beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and herbs, she said. “We’ve packed a lot in there. I know we’re going to get far more than I ever thought we could get out of a small space. I’m looking forward to what this can be.”
The garden is being tended by volunteers, 4-H families and the general community. 4-H members may use plants they care for as a 4-H exhibit and families may take what they need from the garden, Abrell said. Anything leftover will go to local food pantries.
The county asked for $800 for the project and received the full amount, she stated. “We saw this as an opportunity. The community needed this anyway. And then COVID-19 hit. More people needed help in the community.”
Dearborn County extension used the grant money to help pay for a junior leaders container garden project, something the office has done for years, said Liz Beiersdorfer, the county’s 4-H youth development educator. Three hundred plants – started from seedlings and later transferred to one-gallon containers – were given to local food pantries. The pantries distributed the containers to their clients. The plants included sweet peppers, tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers and green beans.
Dearborn County received the $450 grant it requested.
“We wanted to do something to help our community in the time of need,” she said. “These families are just so grateful. It’s been great for my kids to continue the community service that has been so impactful to the community.”
Spencer County used its funding to buy food backpacks for children in the north and south Spencer School districts, said Jennifer Mayo, 4-H extension educator for the county.
The county asked for and received $1,000 from the foundation. The Spencer County 4-H Association matched that amount, giving the county $2,000 to spend on the backpacks, she said.
Extension officials were seeing an increased number of children in need of food at home once in-school learning ended earlier in the year, Mayo said.
“We don’t ever want kids to go hungry on weekends or over the summer,” she explained. “We want people to realize 4-H is more than just ‘come to the fair’. We’ve worked hard over the last couple of years to diversify. We really do care about the community and we want the best for it. We knew that when schools were not back in session, that feeding the kids would be a problem.”
The Indiana 4-H Foundation will have a statewide blood drive on June 25. Information will be posted on its website – www.in4h.org – as it becomes available.