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Indiana 4-H Assists Communities during the COVID-19 Crisis

Two women toss bags of fabric to each other in a parking lot. A police car escorts a vehicle full of sack lunches for children. These are unusual sights, but the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed everyday life. Despite many challenges, Purdue Extension and the Indiana 4-H Youth Development community continue to find ways to help those around them. 

Hamilton County 

Amy Crispin is a 4-H club leader in Hamilton County. She also teaches youth how to sew. When her friend Dr. Karla Loken Bohm approached her to help make fabric masks, Crispin jumped at the chance. 

“I see so many people doing amazing things to help others on mission trips,” said Crispin. “I can’t do that, but I was so glad I could use my little talent of sewing to help.” 

Crispin, also known as Mrs. Sew and Sew, did more than start sewing. She launched an effort via Facebook and provided a fabric-mask video tutorial. She mobilized more than 100 people from 4-H, her sewing classes, her neighborhood, her kids’ school, her church and even her gym. Those who don’t sew are helping by cutting fabric and donating cotton fabric, including bedsheets and dishtowels. 

“The medical staff are using these masks over personal protective equipment (PPE) to extend the life of that equipment, which is already in short supply,” said Loken Bohm. Among those requesting masks are Eskenazi Health, Riley Hospital for Children and Indiana University Health. 

“I didn’t know her well, but I just knew Amy’s heart and knew she would help,” said Loken Bohm. “When I delivered masks the other day, the staff who received them were so grateful they started to cry.” 

Crawford County 

When Gail Peitzmeier, Crawford County Purdue Extension Director, learned that schools and the local Boys and Girls Clubs of America would be closed, she knew that would leave young people in her communities hungry. 

She and Molley Scott, Crawford County 4-H Extension Educator, mobilized 4-H Youth Development Association volunteers. In partnership with Schwartz Family Restaurant in Eckerty, Indiana, volunteers donated and packed 140 sack lunches for children who don’t currently have access to their regular school lunch program. Then, they set up a distribution drive-thru. 

When only 50 lunches were distributed in the first half-hour due to people following Governor Eric Holcomb’s order to shelter in place, the Leavenworth Police Department stepped in with a friendly escort. Thanks to their help, the 4-H volunteers were able to visit apartment complexes and neighborhoods in English, Marengo and Milltown, Indiana, to distribute all 140 sack lunches. 

"The true spirit of the 4-H pledge was put into action in response to social-distancing obstacles and immediate needs of our neighbors,” said Peitzmeier. “Amazing local partnerships shared the mission by distributing healthy lunches to help make a difference in our community." 

The Crawford County Extension office will work to provide lunches for as long as they are needed. 

Miami County 

Jeanette Merritt of Miami County, a 4-H alum and parent of three 4-H youth, was approached by a nursing home in Peru, Indiana, to sew gowns when supply grew short. Merritt was glad to help. 

“This time of year, my machines are usually for the kids’ sewing projects,” said Merritt. “Levi, my youngest and in his first year of 4-H, had been sewing his shorts when I told him I was taking back the machines!” 

She has provided 10 gowns for the facility so far and is making masks in her spare time while still working remotely for her full-time job. 

Orange County 

Abby Heidenreich, Orange County Purdue Extension Director, saw that some in her community did not have transportation to get to local sites that were providing school lunches during the school closure. With the help of adult Indiana 4-H volunteers, she took the food to them. 

The Walmart in Paoli, Indiana, agreed to set up a drop box for donations, and Heidenreich publicized the effort on Facebook. Families in need were able to use a secure Google app to confidentially register for assistance. 

"When face-to-face programming stopped, we looked for alternative ways to do what we could with what we had,” said Heidenreich. “4-H is a family that supports each other in good times and in bad, so we quickly began helping with food insecurity in families with school-age children."    

Through generous food donations and $500 in monetary support from four individual donors, 83 children and 30 families were supplied with one week worth of groceries. 

Statewide Efforts 

Purdue Extension offices across the state are preparing to launch even more community assistance efforts, such as providing STEM activity kits to local childcare providers caring for first responders’ families, building a community sharing garden to address food insecurity, and working to address mental health issues. 

“No matter what a young person’s experience with 4-H is, the program teaches them to serve their communities,” said Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension and senior associate dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture. “They learn leadership and organizational skills along with practical life skills, and we are seeing those skills in action right now. Now, more than ever, we need 4-H.” 

For additional Purdue Extension resources, check out:

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