"He was a great guy."
That's not only the opinion of the late Kenneth Holmes widow, Rita, and their children, but a great many others too. Holmes, who died Jan. 28 of this year, was the originator and driving force behind the Sallisaw 4-H Club Food Drive, which collects and delivers foods of all kinds for the Thanksgiving holiday, including a ham for Thanksgiving dinner. Rita explained, "Two of our daughters were teaching in Vian, Diane (Tillery) was teaching reading, and Kim (Booth) was teaching first grade. Kim said there was a little boy who didn't have anything to eat over the weekends. It broke Kenneth's heart."
Rita explained that hungry little boy prompted the Holmes to collect enough food to feed five families over the Thanksgiving holiday in Vian. The next year the Holmes collected enough food to feed 12 families. The next year, they fed 17 families. The food drive grew from there. Rita said that, since the couple had become leaders of the Sallisaw 4-H Club after her husband retired, he decided the 4-H kids could be included. The 4-H Make a Difference Day is in October, and the Holmes linked the food drive to that good-deed day. "Then we added our other schools. We had Vian, Central, Gans, Sallisaw and Muldrow. The schools help us select the families," Rita said. "We don't know who they are. We don't know their names. We don't want to know." The organizers of the 4-H Food Drive are only told how many persons are in the family. Five and under families get one box of food. Six and over families get two boxes of food.
The food they get is not just for Thanksgiving or the holidays. The food drive provides enough food for the family to eat throughout the children's long Thanksgiving holiday vacation. Mr. Holmes wanted be sure those kids got to eat every day, not just on Thanksgiving day. Rita said, "They get breakfast items, Pop Tarts, pancake mix, cereal, syrup, and other foods like noodles, peanut butter, jelly, soups, all kinds of vegetables." Rita added that some left-over food items are delivered later to families who need foods for their Christmas dinner. Rita said, "Kenneth's goal was to feed 100 families." Her voice cracked when she had to say, "Last year, in 2013, he fed 101 families, and 80 families for Christmas. Then he died." Kenneth Holmes was struck down by a heart attack four weeks later on Jan. 28. He had headed up the 4-H Food Drive for 15 years.
Then the Holmes family faced a difficult decision. Should they continue the annual 4-H Food Drive, without Kenneth? Kenneth Holmes, Rita said, had delivery of the food items down to a science. "He knew what to do," she said, but did others? Could the Holmes family continue the food drive? They decided YES, in memory of their father. "Between us we have eight kids, 23 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren," Rita said. That food drive is currently underway. 4-H'ers in the county's schools held a food drive through October. Food and monetary donations may be made at Armstrong Banks and at Firstar Banks. Financial help can also be sent directly to Rita Holmes at 102333 S. 4621 Rd., Sallisaw, OK 74955. When it's time to distribute the food, the 4-H members and assisting adults gather at the Sequoyah County Fairgrounds the week before the holiday, box the food and hope to see that every hungry child in the county does not go hungry on their Thanksgiving break.
"Kenneth wanted to make a difference in the lives of these kids," Rita said. "He did this for 15 years. This was his dream. He couldn't stand to see kids go hungry." Rita noted that sometimes, a Helping Hand seemed to deliver the foods. Once, one of the families received a turkey that was more than they needed, so they donated the turkey to the Holmes. "Then we heard about a family whose grandfather had just died. He was the wage earner. The family needed food, and there went our turkey," Rita fondly remembered.
This story is for Thanksgiving, and Rita recalled the thanks that Kenneth received from those he helped. "Another family in Vian called for help," Rita recalled. "The woman had three boys and no vehicle. After we delivered the food, a little three-year-old boy came to the door and said 'Thank you for the food.' Kenneth cried." Many of the families send thank yous to the schools. Rita recalled one very special thank you note which brought more tears to her eyes. "The note read 'There ARE angels. It's the Sallisaw 4-H Club.'"
No doubt that 4-H Club is monitored by another angel named Kenneth, who must be watching with a huge smile on his face. By Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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