Michigan-based Ag Community Relief delivers Panhandle fire donations 

By now, Ag Community Relief is an old pro at delivering relief to farmers and ranchers affected by wildfires.  

“We are a small group of farmers and truck drivers based out of eastern Michigan,” Matt Schaller, president of Ag Community Relief, said. 

Ag Community Relief began organizing convoys of donations following the destructive Starbuck fire in southwest Kansas in 2017. The organization saw first-hand the half-million acres burned in Kansas and surrounding areas. Volunteers unselfishly loaded their trucks and vehicles and organized donations, convoys and relief to those affected by the wildfires some 1,200 miles away. Since then, they’ve been to several other states delivering supplies following disasters.  

The Smokehouse Creek and Windy Deuce fires in Texas and the Catesby fire in Oklahoma are much worse than anything Schaller has experienced before. Nearly 1.5 million acres burned in the fires that started Feb. 26, but are now extinguished. 

“This recent disaster has been unique due to its sheer size,” Schaller said. “It’s been beautiful to see the help pour in from all over America.  

Schaller said many people need help, and their needs can be very different. “Farm families from across this country are coming to the rescue again,” he said. “It’s not corporate America leading this relief effort. It’s small-town America again.” 

The resilience of the ag community helping their own is impressive, he said. 

“These disasters that impact the rural communities are much different than the disasters that happen in the big urban areas,” said. “The things that each individual may need in the days or weeks after a disaster can be very unique, and there’s no better group to understand those needs than other farmers or ranchers.” 

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farm Service Agency have federal programs that can help during these kinds of disasters, those also come with restrictions and can take time to set up, he said. 

“The federal government doesn’t have the infrastructure to take care of these needs immediately following a mega fire like this, so it’s up to us to take care of our own,” Schaller said. “I’m proud to say there’s no other industry that looks after their own like we do.” 

Ag Community Relief took a load of large square hay bales from Michigan to a rancher just east of Canadian, Texas, whose ranch burned in the Smokehouse Creek fire. 

“This particular rancher had helped others in years past, and now it was their grass that was lost,” Schaller said. “We were put in contact with them by folks we helped in 2017.  We made a quick stop to unload some specific medical supplies that were needed by the calf orphanage in Beaver, Oklahoma.” 

After leaving Beaver, they headed to Cimarron, Kansas, to reload several more times. 

“We hauled more hay and a huge load of fencing supplies and mineral down to several ranchers that lost everything in the Catesby fire just north of Shattuck, Oklahoma,” he said. “This was a collaborative effort by Steve Hilker Trucking, Blattner Feedlot Construction and Tracer Minerals. We were just there to do our part by trucking it for them.” 

Schaller and his organization have collected donations from across America. 

“We have farm families from California to Connecticut and even overseas that donate to our efforts,” he said. “Some donations come in the form of hay bales, and others make monetary donations to cover fuel and medical supplies.” 

The group started a scholarship program after the 2017 fires and convoys after seeing what the Meade County (Kansas) 4-Hers were doing with the calf orphanage. The kids back then poured everything into helping others, he said. 

“Kids are again helping their communities by raising these injured calves for ranchers at no cost to the rancher,” Schaller said. “We fund this scholarship program with donations and money we raise throughout the years.” 

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For more information on how to donate to the scholarship program or apply for scholarships, visit www.agcommunityrelief.com.  

“We just want people to know about it and what all these great kids are doing for their community,” he said.  

It’s not an easy task gathering donations, coordinating efforts and keeping the organization running, but for Schaller, it’s an important task to serve farmers and ranchers.  

“Our love for this industry and this way of life keep us going,” Schaller said. “We have to be there for each other in times like these because who else will?” 

Schaller said his kids are also a big driver for him, personally. 

“I know they’re watching us, and the best way to teach them is to show them the right way to treat people,” he said.  

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].