Extension service agent takes donations to tornado survivors

Carla Due, Ouachita District director for the Cooperative Extension Service, and Tori Luker, Miller County extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent, unload boxes of supplies from the trailer packed with relief items for victims of the tornado that struck Little Rock on March 31.

For McKenzie Rigdon, the urge to help those affected by the March 31 tornadoes stemmed from personal experience with the harm a tornado can cause.

Rigdon, Miller County extension 4-H agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said she lived in Atkins, Arkansas, when a tornado struck the area in 2008, causing damage to her family’s home. In 2011, her grandparents’ farm was hit by a tornado near Ozark. When a tornado came through her hometown of Vilonia in 2014, she said she witnessed widespread destruction to her community.

“I lost my job because of the tornado. My best friend was in a house that got hit, so it’s a personal thing for me,” Rigdon said. “I can’t donate my time to help right now, so I felt like I needed to do the next best thing, which was gathering relief items.”

Rigdon said she had the idea to start a donation drive and fill up a 4-H trailer with supplies for victims of the tornado, which would then be delivered to Little Rock. She created a flier and posted it at local businesses and at the Four States Fairgrounds in Texarkana. She also shared it on social media. Rigdon said that through word of mouth, local schools and churches heard about the drive and gathered donations for the effort. Rigdon said Sevier County Extension also provided relief items.

“No donation is too small,” Rigdon said. “With this kind of thing, people need anything and everything you can think of. So, even if it’s a notebook for the kid who lost their backpack or a box of Band-Aids – everything is going to help someone in need.”

Rigdon cataloged all of the 672 items donated to the drive, including canned food, hygiene and baby products, dozens of cases of bottled water and more.

‘I pledge my hands to larger service’

On April 24, Rigdon and Tori Luker, Miller County extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent, along with Miller County 4-H members Carlie Keahey, MaKenzie Larey and J.D. Martin, drove from Texarkana to Little Rock with the 4-H trailer in tow. They donated all the items to the City Center, a ministry of Immanuel Baptist Church, to be distributed to tornado victims.

After placing the final case of bottled water atop the large pile of items, Rigdon was overcome with emotion. She said she brought 4-H members along for the drop-off because the project ties back to the mission of the organization.

“The four H’s are head, heart, hands and health. The big one that stands out today is ‘hands for larger service,’” Rigdon said, wiping away a few tears. “It teaches these kids about community service and making a difference in your community. And I want them to know that they have an agent who cares and who wants to do the best that they can. I like to lead by example, so I want them to see this example that I’m putting forth. Because it’s big. I hope that I’m a good role model for them.”

Keahey, 17, has been a member of the Miller County 4-H Club for three years, and she said she came along for the donation drop-off because she wanted to give to those in need.

“I very much enjoy helping out the community around me,” Keahey said. “I love helping McKenzie with all her shenanigans she pulls me into. It makes me feel good to help out with stuff like this. Throughout the past three years in 4-H, I’ve grown so much personally, and this helps me grow in my leadership. I love how much I’ve learned through 4-H.”

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