Miles to Go

7 Apr

When people learn I’m from Christian Help in Kermit, they often say, “I see your vans all over the place.” Most of these people have never been to Christian Help. But they have seen one of the things we do–demand-response door-to-door transportation for people who lack cars or are unable to drive because of age or health problems.
Transportation is one of the biggest problems in rural areas like Mingo County. That was why, back in 2000, with the help of a technical assistance grant (no money) from the Community Transportation Association of America and two donated used vehicles, Christian Help Transit began.
Our original idea was to charge maybe $1.00 a trip, but the man in charge in Charleston said that because the road to Williamson crosses over into Kentucky, we would have to be under interstate jurisdiction if we charged anything. So we didn’t. And still don’t. It’s been free from the start, though some riders do give donations.
Our 2013 report shows that CH Transit served 490 individuals, with 9,261 trips and 105,253 travel miles.
Under the protection of St. Christopher, the legendary saint who served God by carrying people across a raging river and one day learned he had carried Jesus (his name means “Christ-bearer”), CH vans carry Jesus in the person of His needy people. And so far, in 14 years of challenging travel, they have not had a serious accident. Thank you, Christopher, careful van drivers, and God above all!


Those Welfare Mothers

3 Mar

believes they have it pretty easy. .They get free puiblic housing, have food stamps, and get “welfare” to take care of their children–more with each child.  She is convinced that poor women have babies in order to cash in on welfare programs.

Last week I had a call  from a “welfare mother” a couple of counties over. She was calling because some relative of hers had told her we were helping low-income people get dentures. She thought if she could get teeth, she might be able to get a job in her little town. She has 4 and 1/2 teeth left, all bad. She doesn’t know why her teeth got so bad when she was little.

She has two children, a boy, 8, and a little girl, 3. The father of the boy is dead, and the little girl’s father is gone. “The DHHR can’t find him to try to get child support.”

Her trailer, left her by her deceased father, burned–“The law don’t know if it was arson or not”–and she managed to get into public housing by moving away from her home area and mother. She has no rent–because she has no income. But she has to keep up the electricity or move out. A church helped her get some furniture and potatoes.

She gets food stamps but has no car. If she can’t get a ride to the store, she bundles the little girl up and walks–“seems like two miles”” but probably isn’t. The food stamps have been cut twice so far.

If she could find a volunteer job with a government agency or a nonprofit, she could apply for TANF and get $340 a month. But the nearest possible place like that is a town 12 miles away.

About the teeth–her little town has two dentists.  Medicaid will pay for extractions, but the dentists won’t take Medicaid. She’s trying to find a ride to the nearest dentist who will.

I’d like for my acquaintance to meet her.  I think it would be learning experience.

The Constant Quest

28 Jan

People often ask us, “What’s the most frequent request?”  Without doubt it is and has been for years, “Can you help me with my electric bill?”  Our annual outlay for electricity bills is generally in the $30,000 range. Before the recession, when we didn’t as rigorously hold our assistance to $50, the figure often reached $40,000.

Every year American Electric Power, under one of its subsidiaries, Appalachian Power (APCO) for West Virginia, or Kentucky Power for our folks on the other side of the Tug, is our biggest customer. I have said, jokingly, that maybe we ought to ask for a commission from AEP for helping to collect for its bills.

When your monthly income, if you have one–and surprisingly many people don’t–is $710, the power bill is a big chunk of it. For example, when a family manages to get into subsidized public housing, their rent is limited to one-third of their income.  Then they learn that they have 10 days to pay an electric deposit of $150 (or in Kentucky, more likely $250). And  that’s not easy to manage.

Bills build up fast in the winter.  A conservative friend of mine pays over $500 for a winter month’s electricity. And contrary to popular belief, electric companies do turn off service in the winter months, though they are slower to do so then than in the summer. They don’t want to be seen as responsible for someone freezing to death. Some who do win reprieves in winter take all summer trying to get caught up before cold weather strikes again.

           Others spend all summer without electricity. It’s easier to be without power in the summer –except that the kids can’t take a hot bath,  meals can’t be cooked  (most of our folks are total electric), and it gets very hot in those tin trailers without AC.

           Some people heat with kerosene, especially when their electric is off and the nights turn cold, but that’s a dangerous resort. The recurrent request is “Can you help us with our electric bill?” We do. And we refer them to the Dept. of Human Resources  or Coalfield Community Action or the churches–unless they have referred them to us. For many, it’s a constant quest.

Welcoming the Homeless–Puppies and Kittens, O My!

2 Jan

When your agency has a name like “Christian Help,” people expect that you can and will
help with all sorts of things. Over the years that name has meant that if dogs or cats, puppies or kittens, are in need of a home, Christian Help is the place to bring them.
It started before Mingo County had a shelter at all, and it often meant finding a box with kittens or puppies on our back porch or having someone walk in with several and say “Somebody dropped these off at the crossroad (or “on the mountain” or “by the river,”), and I can’t keep them. . .”
One memorable time was when, on returning to the Center after our Christmas distribution, very tired and needing to put our feet up, we found nine puppies in a box on our front porch. They would have frozen that night if someone hadn’t by chance opened the front door, used only when the Center is open.
The next morning, with Christian Help closed, two of us and the puppies went into Williamson and parked on a corner of Walmart’s parking lot.
“You can’t sell things here,” a young assistant manager told us.
“Oh, we aren’t! We’re giving away wonderful little Christmas gifts.” It worked that time, but the next time, it was “You can’t solicit here.” So we went across the road to a spot in front of puppy friendly Food City.
A couple of years ago, Sister Therese found homes for 137 animals over the year. Things have improved since the County Commission started subsidizing spay/neuter. Poor people can’t afford those much-needed procedures.
Generally unwanted puppies or kittens find homes in a morning or afternoon at Christian Help. But even with S/N assistance, we have ended up several times with four or five kittens in the late afternoon in a box in front of kitten-friendly Copley’s Store in Warfield.
Usually they find homes in half an hour or so. It is our hope and prayer that when the darling kittens turn into mischievous teens, they will still be loved and happy in their forever homes.

Drug Overdose–One More Sad WV Title

2 Dec

Recently the news carried the flash that West Virginia is first in the country in death by drug overdose, a new distinction to add to First in Toothlessness title. I wonder if there is a connection. Maybe not directly, but some of the conditions that created the first title may have contributed to the new one.
Poverty, for example, and its companion, hopelessness and depression.. Where jobs are
few and drugs are all too available, it’s not surprising that some people seek the Out of drug abuse. Probably most of the overdoses are not deliberate suicide (who knows?), but they may be an attempt to escape miserable reality. Kentucky, interestingly, which was always either first or second in toothlessness, when West Virginia was always the other one, is Number 3 in death by drug overdose.
Pain may be another “pre-existing condition.” In an earlier day, moonshine was the accepted Appalachian painkiller for mining injuries and other pain resulting from a hardscrabble life. After the end of Prohibition, beer and booze somewhat replaced moonshine. A number of deaths probably resulted from one or another of the three, but the alcohol effect may not have been as death-dealing as today’s drugs. A good sleep and strong coffee might have brought a person back to reality. Today’s drugs are more lethal, and the sleep that they induce is all too often permanent.
Maybe one big difference is the profit incentive, the mark-up that drug dealers and unethical medical, pharmaceutical, and other health care personnel get from providing drugs to people in pain. It exceeds by far what the moonshiner or the bar owner might expect to get from his client.
In any case, this is one title that both West Virginia and Kentucky would like to lose.


9 Oct

           Recently, on a rainy-all-day Saturday,  Mingo County celebrated its annual King Coal Festival. In spite of the driving rain and wind that  toppled at least one booth’s canopy, King Coal devotees and vendors turned out.  There were a few empty spots, and a few vendors, intimidated by the chill and dampness or the danger to fragile or perishable products, closed down early.  But most came and stuck the day out.

        Coal memorabilia were in evidence along the main street. “Little miners” competed for recognition, showing up with coal smudged faces and fluorescent safety tape stitched to their jeans.  Our booth had a cutout where a coal miner fan could be photographed behind a lifesize figure in mining clothes, wearing a miner’s helmet and lamp.

       Whatever the future of coal–and that’s a hot topic in Coal Country right now, the miner will always be an iconic figure for this area, as the cowboy is for the West. Going underground to do a hard, dirty job, accompanied daily by risk of injury or even death, to bring light to the cities and the country demanded courage and dedication.  Like  policemen, firefighters, and others who risk their lives daily for the common good, miners were a heroic band of brothers.

       Recent history has changed the reality. With its blasting off of the tops of mountains and its destruction of trees and rivers and streams, as “overburden” is dumped off the newly created plateaus, “mountaintop removal” has brought a new image to coal mining.  And a lot of West Virginians, even some of those who “heart coal,” deplore the damage the new method has caused.  Mountain State citizens love their mountains and don’t like to see them destroyed.  In its pursuit of speed and efficiency in coal extraction and enhanced profits for mine owners and stockholders, the industry has gone huge, with its many technological advances, its Big John,  and its diminished need for individual coal miners.

         But the image of the coal miner, with his pick and his lunch bucket, his blackened face and his helmet and lamp, will always be a symbol of  pride and courage, an icon, for West Virginia.



6 Sep

The last few days have been much cooler. The leaves are starting to change color and fall to ground. Autumn is upon us. Sweater weather, my mother always calls it.

 I look forward to cooler weather. I have plenty of natural insulation and my skin is very pale, so hot weather is not my favorite. I prefer the fall weather. In fact, it’s my favorite season.

But for many folks in our part of Appalachia, cooler weather signals the beginning of tougher times. Many folks here struggle to pay their utility bills when the days become colder and colder.

In fact, I learned at a recent board meeting that the lion’s share of our winter budget goes to helping people with their utility bills. In 2010, the most recent year for which I have readily available figures as I write, Christian Help served over 2,700 families through direct aid, much of which involved heating bills. And, just in case you’re wondering, the money is paid directly to the providers.

Most of us are lucky enough to take warmth for granted. God bless those who donate to Christian Help for aiding those who are not.