It began when Melanie Pennebaker wanted to donate a horse.
The woman, who’s from Stigler, Okla., now operates a Facebook group called: Wildfire & Disaster Ag Community Relief.
Pennebaker describes the group as a national, informational hub, which she said is connected to more than 100,000 people and at least 30 other Facebook groups.
Last week, Pennebaker helped connect Nebraska farmers with those in Oklahoma to help get some hay to Tom Geisler of Winslow whose hay bales were washed away by flood waters.
“We’ve been doing this for two years,” said Pennebaker of the Facebook page, adding, “I’m just a rancher, who donated a horse and got started in it.”
Pennebaker said she became involved in an effort to help those affected by devastating 2017 wildfires in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
She got started by answering questions.
“I was trying to find a rancher to donate that horse to,” Pennebaker said. “And I made a post and it was shared like 600 times in 48 hours.”
Pennebaker would have a selection of ranchers — who’d lost horses in the fire – from which she could choose as the next owner of her horse.
She ended up taking the horse to its new owner and kept answering questions.
“It organically grew from there,” she said. “I’ve been referring to it for the last couple of years as this grassroots, organically evolving and growing, nationwide, underground relief effort.”
Now, she said groups from more than a dozen states across the country visit the page to get instant information.
Pennebaker’s Facebook page said the group’s primary focus is to share information to donate directly to ranchers, on-the-ground local relief efforts and donation drop points in the affected areas.
“I don’t work under any particular nonprofit and I won’t touch money, because I want this to be an informational thing with no agenda,” she said. “I work now with probably a dozen nonprofits.”
On her Facebook page, Pennebaker also said it is a place to share stories and photos of the devastation, but also of the bigger story — the hope that has come from the countless efforts of many people to come together to help farmers and ranchers in need.
Since the helping people during wildfires that hit the Great Plains in March 2017, the page has continued to provide information and updates for: drought in North Dakota; wildfires in Montana; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Michael; wildfires in Oklahoma, Texas and California; tornadoes across the country and — most recently — Nebraska blizzard and floods of March 2019.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Pennebaker told the Tribune. “There’s 13 disasters in the last two years, but this is the third major Midwest disaster where it’s just sparked this nationwide help from what I call civilians. It’s like a civilian army of other people in the ag community, trucking industry and rural communities coming together to help out and descend on the area in need.”
Those wanting more information can look for the Wildfire & Disaster Relief Ag Community page on Facebook or call Pennebaker at 1-918-448-2001.