Sweat and generosity

Sweat and generosity
4-H teen "steers" a slew of donations to Ronald McDonald House
McKalynne Helmke raised her steer, Refried, which was donated to feed families at the Ronald McDonald House. (Photo: Leanne Wise-Helmke)
McKalynne Helmke raised her steer, Refried, which was donated to feed families at the Ronald McDonald House. (Photo: Leanne Wise-Helmke)

Story by Alayna DeMartini

Growing up on a cattle farm in northeast Ohio, McKalynne Helmke learned to raise steers and always pitch in.

Even now, at 17, she knows she has what some do not. She has a home. She’s healthy, and so are her brother and parents. They don’t have to scrimp to pay for food, an occasional vacation, new boots. 

Last year, the high school junior raised a steer and auctioned it for a fundraiser to support the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, which offers housing and meals to families while their children receive medical care. The fundraiser was the Dean’s Charity Steer Show hosted by Cathann A. Kress, dean of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Refried was named the Tuscarawas County Champion Bred and Fed Steer and later processed by Sugar Valley Meats into 850 pounds of beef for the Ronald McDonald House. (Photo: Leanne Wise-Helmke)

This year, the pandemic prevented the steer show from being held. Still, Helmke wanted the steer she raised to be donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus. So, she made that happen. 

“Refried” was the name of her steer—as in refried beans. Helmke thought the steer resembled the color of refried beans when he was born. Twice a day she fed him. Three times a day she rinsed him to clear off mud. And then they parted ways. 

“I cried,” she said. “I had him since he was born.”

Year after year, Helmke gets through the heartache of raising and then auctioning off her steers by focusing on the next one she’ll take care of. The cycle of bonding with her steer and then saying goodbye about a year later is not a new routine. As a member of the Crooked Run Cloverstitchers 4-H club, Helmke has been raising and showing market steers and hogs since she was 9. But some years it’s tougher to part with a steer and its endearing personality. 

“Refried was very loving and nosey at the same time,” Helmke said. “When he came into the barn, he would always be the first one to greet you.”

“I cried. I had him since he was born.”McKalynne Helmke

Before Refried was auctioned at the Tuscarawas County Fair in September, Helmke approached Joe Sarchione, the owner of Sarchione Ford, a car dealership in nearby Stark County. She asked if the company would buy her steer at the fair’s auction and then have it donated to the Ronald McDonald House. Steer buyers at the fair could give their purchased hogs and steer to the Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry program. But Helmke wanted buyers to also have the option of giving their animals to the Ronald McDonald House.

Having bonded with her steer for a year, Helmke had a tough time parting with him. (Photo: Linde's Livestock Photos)

So, Helmke asked Sarchione if he would like to donate Refried. Happy to do it, he bought the steer, which turned out to be 850 pounds of hamburger, roast, and steak.

“2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, but we do it for the kids,” said Dustin King, general manager of Sarchione Ford of Waynesburg. “They deserve to have their community support them.” 

Sarchione also bought 12 hogs and donated them as well. That paved the way for others at the Tuscarawas County Fair to help fill the freezer at the Ronald McDonald House. In total, 16 hogs bought at the event were donated.

Those 2,000 pounds of bacon and pork, along with the 850 pounds of beef, will be packed into a truck and delivered to the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus in the coming weeks. 

“They have to feed so many people there,” Helmke said about the charity. “Anything helps.”

Now Helmke is focused on raising Ferdinand and Bean, which she’ll be loving and eventually saying goodbye to, at next fall’s fair.