AGR chapters from Texas aid those devastated by wildfires

Submitted by Madeline Mapes

No one can fathom the feeling that washes over someone when they are forced out of their home. Then when they return, very little to nothing is left standing. Thousands of people in Texas have been affected by the wildfires that have ravaged the land and left many with nothing, including some brothers of Alpha Gamma Rho. But, often, unfortunate events lead to a kind of unity that is impossible to understand. Three AGR chapters from Texas, West Texas A&M Colony, Beta Xi Chapter at Texas Tech University and Beta Nu Chapter at Texas A&M have all taken steps to aid those who have been devastated by the wildfires. 

West Texas A&M Colony held a ‘Fill the Trailer’ event during a tailgate party Saturday, March 2, to receive donations. The colony took donations for anything non-perishable, clothing, hygiene products, and bottles of water. Brother Tres Pennington helped coordinate the donation drive and was amazed with the turnout they saw. 

“We sat out at the tailgate from about 10:45 on Saturday morning to about three o’clock that afternoon and collected hundreds and hundreds of donations,” Brother Pennington said. 

He explained the colony worked with almost every other Greek organization throughout the entire process. On Saturday, Omega Delta Phi’s West Texas A&M Chapter helped gather donations while other Greek organizations provided donations to fill the trailer that was provided by the University’s Department of Agriculture Sciences. 

Sunday, West Texas A&M Colony along with several other fraternities and sororities spent the day organizing all the donations, including sorting the clothes by gender and sizes. 

“It was very heartwarming to see all of the groups come together to be able to help with the event and put their effort toward assisting those in need,” Brother Pennington said. 

He noted that the amount of donations received filled an entire lecture hall when they were sorting. The trailer borrowed from the Department of Agriculture was a 24-foot trailer and was filled to the brim.

Once all the donations were organized in the trailer, West Texas A&M Colony, with the assistance of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Disaster Assessment & Recovery Unit, set out with a University minivan along the Texas Panhandle and dropped donations at four different locations including, Pampa, Fritch, Borger and Miami, Texas, the following Monday. 

Brother Pennington said some of the towns, such as Borger, were larger distribution locations, which means the donations gathered by the West Texas A&M Colony will go out to other areas that they may not have been able to reach alone. 

“It was much more than we were expecting and how quickly the event came together … but it was very heartwarming to see everyone pull together to be able to help those in need,” Brother Pennington reiterated. 

Many AGR brothers and their families in Texas have been affected by the wildfires; some have lost almost everything. He said the Colony is staying in contact with those relatives and using them as a grapevine to see who needs the Colony’s help on their farms or ranches. 

He also said the following Tuesday, several brothers and himself attended a meeting in Pampa to organize volunteers and aid for those in need. Brother Pennington said the Colony’s plan is to find a weekend where they can go and work with farmers and ranchers to help them in any way they can, whether it be mending fences, rounding up livestock or another laborious tasks. 

The same weekend as West Texas A&M’s efforts to ‘Fill the Trailer’, Beta Xi Chapter at Texas Tech University also stepped up to help victims of the wildfires by providing hot meals to community members of Canadian, Texas and the local volunteer fire department. Brother Matthew White, Noble Ruler of the Beta Xi Chapter, said many of the chapter brothers have family and friends who have been affected by the wildfires, sparking the idea to aid those in need. 

“We hauled our trailer smoker to Canadian as soon as we could and set up in front of the Canadian volunteer fire department,” Matthew said. “I think the total count of tacos cooked was a little bit under 2,000.” 

Brother White said the chapter contacted some local businesses in hopes of gaining support for their plans to gather supplies to provide food for families and livestock. Rowdy Feeds, owned by a father of two AGR brothers, provided hay and other food for livestock. Raider Red Meats donated roughly 300 pounds of sausage and ribeye trimmings for the chapter to cook. 

He also noted that the chapter ended up gathering 8,000 pounds of hay donated from Rowdy Feeds, the chapter purchased roughly 3 tons of range cubes and 300 pounds of mineral in addition to the donated meat. 

Brother Zach Matthews, an alumnus from the Beta Nu Chapter at Texas A&M University, connected with the Beta Xi Chapter and assisted them with donations, coordinating their efforts and helping them haul all of the gathered supplies. He also coordinated distribution efforts to get hay and feed from the Beta Xi Chapter to the smaller farmers and ranchers in the area who may have been overlooked by some of the larger relief efforts. 

The chapter drove roughly three and a half hours one way from Lubbock to Canadian. Another alumnus, Brother Jake Byars of Beta Xi Chapter, met the chapter half-way and helped the brothers navigate to Canadian since there were road closures from the fires. 

Brother White said the chapter left around 5:30 a.m. and spent the whole day in Canadian either cooking or distributing supplies. He said they had a little food left over that they left with the fire department along with a couple slats of drinks for the fire fighters that the chapter had purchased. 

Since going to Canadian, the Beta Xi Chapter started a donations link to gather funds to help supplement some of the money they used to purchase the materials as well as the drinks they purchased for the first responders. 

Beta Xi Chapter currently doesn’t have any future plans to aid with the wildfires, but plans could develop. 

Beta Nu Chapter at Texas A&M also came up with a plan and partnered with the Sigma Alpha Sorority chapter on their campus to raise funds for the Smokehouse Creek Fires, which were donated to the STAR Fund (State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund). 

Brother Reese Janek, the Noble Ruler of Beta Nu Chapter, said he and his girlfriend, Grace Price, who is the secretary for Sigma Alpha’s Texas A&M chapter, both knew people who had been affected by the Smokehouse Creek fires and wanted to do something that could help. 

“We saw the tragedy that struck the Smokehouse Creek fires … and so we brainstormed what would be the best way to support victims of those fires,” Brother Janek said. 

The STAR Fund is a disaster relief fund centered around aiding farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses in covering costs to repair fencing, restoring operations, and covering other agricultural disaster relief. 

Beta Nu Chapter and Sigma Alpha raised $1,800 that was already donated to the STAR Fund. Brother Janek said there are still some donations that have trickled in after their initial donation. 

Reese said the chapter was able to utilize their College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ email newsletter to spread the word about the donation link. He said they also posted the link on social media, shared it with family and shared it on campus as well. 

Through the smoke, Alpha Gamma Rho’s Texas chapters have been a glimmer of hope, along with the many first responders and volunteers assisting those in need in the Texas Panhandle where nearly 1.1 million acres have already been consumed as of March 6, 2024.