Five Marys owner helps raise $250,000 for kids affected by Dixie Fire
A Fort Jones business owner with a national following stepped up in a big way to assist 4-H participants affected by the Dixie Fire.
Mary Heffernan is the owner of Five Marys Farms, which is a direct-to-consumer premium meat service business. She and her family also run Five Marys Burgerhouse, Five Marys Meats, Camp Five Marys, M5 Entrepreneurs Small Business Academy, and M5 Ranch School. She has been featured nationally in publications and television, including The Today Show and Forbes.
On Sunday, Aug. 15, Heffernan and Carlos Whittaker, a Christian author, speaker, and host of the “Human Hope” podcast and their online communities joined together to raise $251,420 in donations for the Indian Valley and Wolf Creek 4-H members, located in the Greenville and Taylorsville areas. The Dixie Fire, which is burning in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, and Tehama counties, has greatly affected these kids and their families.
“I decided to do a call to action within my community of over 200,000 Instagram followers and over 40,000 customers – to ask them to help me help these kids who had lost their homes, family businesses, and stability in the Dixie Fire,” Heffernan said. She said they collected flat donations through their website with 100% going directly to the kids in their livestock auction by buying their animals.
The Dixie Fire started on July 13, and has now become the second-largest fire in California history, burning over 700,000 acres.
“These kids have been displaced, lost their homes, fighting fires themselves since this nightmare started for them and their families,” Heffernan said. “Yet, they all showed up with smiles and positive outlooks to be a part of this 4H auction and to complete their projects by selling their animals in the livestock ring.”
Attending the auction
Heffernan attended The Plumas-Sierra County Auction, which was held in Greenville on Sunday. Originally, the event was to be held in Quincy but was moved due to the original location being used as a firefighter camp. Each animal bought by Heffernan was then donated back to be sold again to benefit the Dixie Fire Fund.
They were able to buy or price support 24 kids with the $251,420 raised and another $53,000 was raised by selling the animals again to benefit the Dixie Fire Fund.
Heffernan said that a young girl named Jewel VanAcker saved her 4-H project meat goat by loading the goat into a car to flee the fire. She won Reserve Champion Goat. The #M5Community and #InstaFamilia bought her goat for $100 a pound.
At the auction, Mary met Jewel and her reserve champion goat, Forrest Gump. Heffernan said Jewel was the first Indian Valley 4H kid to sell in the auction ring. She recalled that young Jewel “had the biggest smile on her face as she proudly showed her goat.” When she found out her goat had sold for $100 a pound, “the look on her face was priceless, and the auction helpers had to coax her out of the ring – she was in shock,” Heffernan said.
Asking for Help
Heffernan started a campaign within the Five Marys customer base and Instagram community the week prior to bring awareness to 4H Junior Livestock Auctions.
She said Five Marys offered $2 from every pound of ground beef they sold to go to the local Siskiyou County 4H auction to support local kids as price support or “add-ons” for their animals.
“I knew a lot of the kids were worried about how the prices would be this year with so much of their community devastated and already expecting to be financially burdened by the fire,” Heffernan said. “The kids have to pay for their livestock projects themselves, included their feed and care, and if the prices at auction aren’t very high – they can actually lose money on a project animal.”
She began sharing the story on her Instagram channel that Wednesday, just a few days prior to the Sunday auction, and overnight had raised $34,500. A good friend of hers, Carlos Whittaker of Nashville, saw her story on Thursday morning and wanted to help as well, Heffernan recalled.
“I knew when he texted me ‘let’s do this’ that morning, we could make big things happen in the next 24 hours,” she said. “Carlos has a community of 235,000 on Instagram he calls the #instafamilia and when they see a need or a person who needs a little extra help, they are active in making donations by the thousands. Most donations are $1 to $5, but every bit adds up.”
Heffernan said 24 hours later, Carlos community had donated $153,241 in donations via Venmo and PayPal. The Five Mary’s M5 community and customer base had surpassed $100,000 in donations collected through their website.
Heffernan and her husband, Brian, have both been a part of 4H since they were kids, and their children have been involved in Fort Jones 4-H for five years.
“We both know what hard-working, resilient kids 4H-ers are and we wanted to help the Indian Valley and Wolf Creek 4H kids and families after hearing about the devastation the Dixie Fire had left in its path,” Heffernan said.
She said she was “humbled” to help “and to represent the thousands of people who had donated in the few days prior “to support these kids who had lost so much in the Dixie Fire.”
“Every kid was grateful and surprised. No one expected more than anyone else even though they might have lost everything to this fire,” Heffernan stated, “I’ve never seen a more thankful, humble and gracious group of kids.”
Mary said she was touched when one mom told her, “What you did Sunday for our community and these kids will forever change them and help them in their future.”
After the auction, Heffernan took a group photo with all of the kids. In between their thank yous and smiles, she reminded them what 4H is about. Their pledge, she said, is “My heart to greater loyalty, My hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” Heffernan said she asked them to pay it forward – by using some of their money to help an elderly neighbor or a family who needed some of their help too.
“I know these donations – from thousands of people in the M5 community and the #instafamilia – will make a bigger impact in what these kids continue to do to pay it forward,” Heffernan said.