Two weeks after a barn fire killed nearly two dozen alpacas near Greenfield, breeders from around the area have donated animals and preserved a 4-H program in the process.
Susi and Wayne Melton provided the animals for the Hancock County 4-H Llama and Alpaca Club for 17 years. Then, two weeks ago, the couple’s barn burned down and all 23 alpacas died.
"I saw one of the animals run out and it was on fire," Wayne Melton said. "It run out in front of the barn and then and then turned around and went back in. It's wool was all ablaze."
"When we got the news about it we just wanted to be able to help them," said Jane Conner of Lookout Farm Alpacas in Terre Haute.
Jane Conner and her husband decided to donate a male alpaca to the Meltons to help keep the 4-H program alive.
The Conner’s weren’t alone. A breeder from Fillmore also came forward.
"Immediately I decided I wanted to contribute," said Lu Heiney, owner of Santa Claus Alpacas.
The Santa Claus name is fitting because Heiney presented the Melton's with a list of several alpacas intended for Hancock County boys and girls free of charge.
"I kind of looked at her and I kind of started crying and she said, 'Is this not okay?' and I said, 'Well, it's fine. We're tickled to death with what you're giving us but I just can't believe it,'" Susi Melton said. "(Heiney) said, 'Oh, I'm not done with you yet."
When Heiney heard about a boy with special needs who required a smaller animal, she decided to give even more.
"This little boy (alpaca) lost his mother when he was three months old," Heiney said. "He's very special and dear to my heart, but when I found out that there was someone who would be watching over him that closely I decided that this would be the perfect home for him."
By the time she was finished, Heiney had given the Melton’s 15 alpacas.
"I didn't want their program to be stopped," Heiney said. "I wanted them to be able to continue and hoped that maybe new animals would help them over their grief."
"I was freaking out," said Delanie Melton, a 4-H member who lost her prize-winning alpaca in the fire. "Everyone else is helping and it's Hoosier helping Hoosier. I like that."
"It means everything really," said Abby Ellenburg, another 4-H member who lost her alpaca. "I mean, I can't imagine my life without them."
"I'm grateful,” said Susi Melton. "The kids will be grateful. You know, when they come and they see them they'll be grateful too. It was their loss too. Kids have called and asked, 'Did my animal make it?' 'Well, no your animal didn't make it.' That's hard. But we're going to be alright."
The Meltons say they now have more than enough Alpacas to continue the 4-H program. Susi says they have actually had to turn down offers from four states, but she says they remain grateful for everyone who took the time to reach out.