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Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: Before donating to wildfire victims, keep these factors in mind.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

March 15, 2024

4 Min Read
Carlos Garza, a disaster assessment and recovery agent with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
RECOVERY: Carlos Garza, a disaster assessment and recovery agent with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, prepares to load donated cattle feed and fencing material onto a rancher's truck March 4 in Pampa, Texas. The Smokehouse Creek fire has burned more than 1 million acres in the Texas Panhandle, killing at least two people and destroying more than 500 structures. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Natural disasters bring out the good — and, unfortunately, the bad — in people.

This spring, the Smokehouse Creek Fire in the Texas Panhandle has burned more than 1 million acres, and the central Nebraska fires at the end of February burned 70,000 acres. Further, conditions are ripe for more across the Plains.

Many farm and ranch families and agribusinesses send help to those recovering from the ashes every year. But we know from past disasters that there are those with less than honorable intentions waiting to prey on those who want to help.

In the past decade of writing about wildfire recovery efforts, I’ve heard a lot of stories of what works and what doesn’t work. Here are four things you should keep in mind if you want to help:

1. Check the organization’s reputation. In the last decade of massive wildfires, cattle producers’ groups like the Kansas Livestock Association and advocacy organizations like the Kansas Farm Bureau have learned how best to respond to disasters and coordinate donation efforts.

In the case of the Texas Panhandle wildfire, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a page of local contacts and a button to donate funds at tscra.org/disaster-relief-fund.

If you would like to help wildfire victims in central Nebraska, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a link to a page coordinating those donations through local businesses on the ground.

Related:Texas Panhandle: 4 wildfire donation tips

Be careful about phone calls, texts or email solicitations you may receive claiming to be gathering donations for fire victims. And check with your older family members and neighbors to make sure that they’re not being preyed upon by scammers.

2. What’s the most appropriate donation? It depends on timing. In the immediate days and weeks after a wildfire in ranch country, the first need is to help shelter and feed people and livestock.

Trailers of hay and feed are helpful, but be sure to call ahead and have a place to go with those loads before you set out. Be safe in convoys when traveling across state lines and follow all department of transportation rules and regulations. Make sure equipment is roadworthy. And be mindful of active fire zones and the first-responder crews sharing the road with your rigs.

Fencing materials and labor are helpful but, again, check ahead before you set out with a crew of volunteers. Make sure you’re taking that load of fencing materials to the right staging location.

It may sound crass to some, but cash donations can go further. Entities like the TSCRA fund can pool cash donations and make sure that some funding goes to all eligible victims. If you want to help those who lost homes, the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are usually in a better position to make your dollars go further as well.

3. Check with state and local Extension staff. Extension staff are perhaps the best in place to really have a handle on the immediate and long-term needs following a wildfire. Check with the state Extension office, which will often update donation requests and offer official lists of locations accepting feed or fencing materials.

Other reputable agencies that can help direct your donations include the state and local Farm Service Agency offices, the state and local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices, and the state department of agriculture.

4. Be prepared before your volunteer trips. Volunteer help is welcome in the aftermath of a wildfire, but be sure you aren’t adding to the stress of the locals you’re trying to help.

If you have special skills, such as veterinary or construction, check with local coordinators to see where you can best serve victims. Make arrangements for housing and feeding your crew so that you aren’t stressing already limited local resources. Bring appropriate clothing and tools, and make sure crew members are up to the labor and prepared for what they may see.

As one rancher bluntly told me a few years back, “This is not a time for lookie-loos.”

Sometimes the best volunteer help stays at home. Community groups, like 4-H clubs and FFA chapters, may consider hosting activities to gather donations of fencing materials, feed or funds. You also could consider raising funds for your local rural fire departments for equipment and training. Better yet, volunteer to be on your local rural fire crew.

Rural folks pull together when disaster hits because we know that the next disaster could be ours. But it’s important that we do so in a thoughtful manner, so we aren’t being scammed and we are helping where help is needed most.

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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