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“Thank you for my coat. It is very warm,” says young Daniel, who added a drawing himself wearing a big, puffy coat and the words “happy and warm.”

“Thank you for my coat. It will be very warm for school,” reported “Carlos T.”

“Thank you for the warm coat. It was very nice of you to give me one,” little Kaleigh told us.

And as for Thalia, she sent us a self-portrait also wearing a big, puffy coat with a big smile on her face and one word – “coat.”

These children were all grateful for coats provided to them by Americans Helping Americans® Coats for Americans program last year.

This year, we are planning on shipping out 1,500 coats to children in Appalachian counties in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia where winter is fast approaching.

In fact, as of December 1 the weather forecast in War, West Virginia where Americans Helping Americans® partner Big Creek People in Action(BCPIA) is located, calls for showers and a low temperature of 22 degrees.

That’s cold!

Imagine being a child standing at a bus stop waiting to be picked up to go to school in a threadbare, hand-me-down coat – or perhaps even no coat at all.

In Beattyville, Kentucky where our partner there, the Lee County Family Resource Center is located in the town’s elementary school and serves hundreds of students, the conditions for that day are not predicted to be much better – showers with a low temperature of 25 degrees.

And these forecasts are predicted actual temperatures – not including wind chill factors.

Also because we realize that there are adults, some homeless living in the woods and under bridges, also who need to be warm in winter we will be providing our partners with 425 adult size winter coats.

As we were told by BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson who was gratified to be able to provide the children and adults BCPCIA serves after a coat distribution:

We recently had a free giveaway and were able to offer coats, shoes and hats. I am sure many people would not think of this as a big thing – but it is a big thing in our community.

This was a very harsh winter for people across our nation this year and we struggled through some rough weather conditions here. To know that we were able to offer a warm coat to someone in need was especially gratifying during a winter such as this one.

Beattyville, Kentucky has the dubious distinction of being the poorest “white” town in the United States, according to a recent report in The Guardian newspaper.

Of communities of more than 1,000 people, Beattyville is among the four lowest income towns in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2008-2012, the latest statistics available.

Beattyville’s median household income is just $12,361, placing it as the third lowest income town in the US, according to the Census Bureau survey.

To help address the needs of impoverished children in this hard-hit community, described by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in America, Americans Helping Americans® has been partnering with the Lee County Family Resource Center to provide shoes to children who show up at the Beattyville Elementary School with worn out shoes many sizes too big, or wearing flip flops in the dead of winter.

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This year, Americans Helping Americans® is planning to take on another project in partnership with the Family Resource Center – ensuring children don’t go hungry over the weekend during the school year.

Family Resource Center director Sherry Lanham explained that within the past two years, two of the community’s largest employers – a factory and a prison – have closed resulting in hundreds of people being put out of work, in addition to the high unemployment rate which had already existed before the closings.

More than 80 percent of the children at the school qualify for free lunch, with another 10 percent qualifying for reduced-price lunch, according to Lanham.

“Many of our children come to school hungry in the mornings and on Monday several ask for extra food,” she said.

Through its weekend food program, the Family Resource Center serves between 50 and 75 children depending on need, which varies as families move in and out of the country.

Each Friday afternoon, sacks are filled with items that students can open themselves, are non-perishable and don’t require cooking such as Pop Tarts, Vienna sausages, chips, cereal bars, graham crackers, cereal bowls, Rice Krispies treats, cheese and crackers, snack cakes, Jell-O cups and other items.

In addition, Lanham said they also try to send home left over cereal, milk, juice, etc., from the school lunchroom.

“If the children do not get the food items, they will have limited food for the weekend or holiday breaks,” Lanham said. “Also, during bad weather and snow days students need extra food.

“The end of the month is especially hard because families do not have food stamps left and food runs out,” she added.

Children who are hungry obviously cannot do well in school.

“If children do not have enough food, their brains cannot function and they cannot learn,” Lanham said. “Also, if they are hungry they look for a way to relieve that including stealing and lying to get the food they need.

“Children who are hungry cannot learn in class and are often disruptive to the entire school,” she commented.

Lanham noted that children who are hungry either at school or at home are not worried about homework or school work.

“They are worried about their next meal and everything else is unimportant.”

Lanham said she frequently has children coming to her Friday morning and asking “Do I get food this weekend?”

Children are also anxious to see how much food is in their bag so they can prepare it for the weekend.

“We have children who say they put their food under the bed and share it with siblings and make it last the entire weekend,” she said. “We had one small boy who would try and save part of his school lunch to take home to his sister. We gave him extra food for his sister and he was very happy.”

She also has children who are leaving elementary school to attend middle school expressing concern about what will happen to them and wondering if they will still get food to take home for the weekend.

The short term goal of the weekend food program is to get food in the hands of children in need for that weekend.

“The long term goal is to show the families that we care and want to help and encourage them to come to us for help,” she said. “We also want to hook them up with any resources we can find for food.

“The primary and long term goal is to make sure children are not HUNGRY!”

 

On Friday, October 23, Americans Helping Americans® interim executive director Bethelhem Tessema and staff had the opportunity to see first-hand the joy on the faces of hundreds of children and adults in Gainesville, Georgia who received new coats, hats and scarves, blankets, shoes and even laundry detergent at a one day “Give Away” event.

Tessema had traveled to Gainesville to meet with Mary Mauricio, executive director of our partner there L.A.M.P. Ministries, who would be overseeing the distribution of 240 coats, 150 winter hats, pairs of gloves and scarves, 150 pairs of shoes, 100 blankets and 100 containers of laundry detergent with a total estimated in-kind value of $24,550.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, and our partnership with L.A.M.P. Ministries, needy children will be warm at the bus stops this winter – where even in northern Georgia temperatures can drop to below freezing.

As Mary recently told us, “Homeless people are crying from gratitude because now they have a coat – a good one – and they are not embarrassed to wear it. For those sleeping outside, this is lifesaving.”

We are also very appreciative of The Gainesville Times which reported on the event noting that while it was L.A.M.P. Ministries which handled the logistics of the distribution, the items themselves came directly from Americans Helping Americans®

The article also vividly illustrated the great need in this Appalachian community as Mary commented that more than 300 people took advantage of the event, and that they originally thought it would take three hours to distribute the items but instead all of them were claimed within 30 minutes.

It was a bittersweet moment for both Mary and Tessema to first see the excitement and joy on the faces of those who received coats, shoes and other items, then followed by the disappointment on the faces of those who arrived too late.

But as we have done year after year with L.A.M.P. Ministries and our other partners in Appalachia – thanks to our supporters – we will continue to do all we can to be able to provide more coats and winter items to our partner organizations in the future.

(And the article also noted that less than a month after the coat distribution, L.A.M.P. Ministries would be holding its Thanksgiving dinner on November 21, with turkeys provided by Americans Helping Americans®.)

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In McDowell County, West Virginia one-third of children living there go hungry at night.

A large percentage lack adequate outerwear to keep them warm during the cold West Virginia winters high in the Appalachian Mountains.

Earlier this year, we heard from our partner there, Big Creek People in Action, about what a difference Americans Helping Americans® is making there – thanks to supporters like you.

“We recently had a free giveaway and were able to offer coats, shoes, scarves and hats,” reported BCPIA co-Executive Director Marsha Timpson. “All of those items came to us from Americans Helping Americans®.

“I am sure many people would not think of this as a big thing – but it is a big thing in our community,” she continued. “This was a very harsh winter for people across our nation this year and we struggled through some rough weather conditions here. To know that we were able to offer a warm coat to someone in need was especially gratifying during a winter such as this one.”

Recipients included a grandmother raising SEVEN grandchildren on her own, a young frightened girl who was pregnant with her first child, to children who were so excited at receiving a new coat they could barely contain their glee – and no one was asking them to.

“I am not sure who chose the name for that organization, but it certainly was a winner!” Timpson added. “That is exactly who they are and what they do!”

A report like this is exactly why Americans Helping Americans® is launching “Coats4Americans.” In the month of December, our goal is to provide coats, gloves, hats and scarves to keep more than 2,000 Appalachian children warm this winter.

We’ll launch the campaign on “Giving Tuesday,” on December 1. On that one day, people around the country are asked to remember those most in need. And on that one day, we know our supporters will remember the many children who live today in some of the poorest counties in the country, such as McDowell.

#Coats4Americans. It’s about the numbers. 2,300 heavy winter coats + 2,600 gloves and scarves + 1,300 hats = more than that 2,000 warm children.

#Coats4Americans. It’s about the 2,000 kids.

We wanted you, our supporters, to be among the first to know of our Giving Tuesday Campaign “Coats4Americans.

Life in Appalachia can be harsh, especially for children.

Going to bed hungry and waking up eager to get to school and a filling nutritious breakfast.

And the situation is exacerbated during the winter months when freezing cold weather sets in and children have no choice but to stand in threadbare coats and worn out shoes waiting for the warmth of the school bus.

In fact, Lee County, Kentucky where Americans Helping Americans® partner Cumberland Mountain Outreach is located has the dubious distinction of being named one of the hardest places to live in the country.

The statistics are disturbing.
AHA infographicblast1Mothers and fathers struggle to provide for their children on a per capita income of less than $19,000 and many are ready, able and eager to work – if there were jobs available. Only 9 percent of children in poverty live in families that have at least one parent who is working full time.

Already this fall, Americans Helping Americans® has distributed hundreds of heavy winter coats, hats, scarves and pairs of gloves so children won’t be shivering at bus stops, and their parents are relieved of the expense when there is barely enough money to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head and the heat and lights on.

We are grateful to our supporters for making this happen, but the stark reality is there are many more out there hoping and waiting.

At a recent coat distribution event held by our partner L.A.M.P. Ministries in Gainesville, Georgia we were heartened by the joy on the faces of hundreds who tried on their coat to make sure it fit properly, and for young boys and girls that there was plenty of room to ensure they wouldn’t outgrow it before spring arrives.

However, we were saddened to see others who arrived too late – disappointed that all the coats were all gone.

But we are not deterred as we will continue, as we have for 30 years, to do all we can to meet the great need throughout Appalachia.

This October, Americans Helping Americans® Executive Director Beth Tessema and staff had the opportunity to visit two of our partners in northeast Georgia to witness the distribution of hundreds of winter coats and more to families in need.

Over the course of two days, Caring Hands Ministries in Cleveland and L.A.M.P. Ministries in Gainesville distributed a total of 670 winter coats, 350 pairs of shoes, 250 blankets and hundreds of hats, scarves and pairs of shoes as well as containers of laundry detergent with an in-kind value of more than $53,000.

We are writing you to share our experience of hearing the words “thank you” over and over and over again because it is not us who deserve it, but you.

Within a period of two hours, Caring Hands Executive Director Ann Fleming and her team of volunteers had successfully and efficiently distributed coats and the other items to more than 200 individuals.

As Ann told us, “You are saving and changing lives by making this help possible. Local emergency services says that a warm coat is all that kept a homeless lady from freezing to death…a coat you helped to provide.”

The next day at L.A.M.P. Ministries, Executive Director Mary Mauricio oversaw their distribution in the parking lot of a nearby church.

As Mary told us, “Homeless people are crying from gratitude because now they have a coat – a good one – and they are not embarrassed to wear it. For those sleeping outside, this is lifesaving.”

And for Beth it was gratifying and heartwarming to be part of a team – you, Americans Helping Americans®, Caring Hands and L.A.M.P. – which as a result of all of us doing our part, hundreds of children and adults in need will have no need to worry about how they’ll be keeping warm this winter.

On behalf of all of them, we pass along their thanks and share their smiles.

Throughout Appalachia there are tens of thousands of children who have just returned to school who can’t see the blackboard clearly because of a lack of eyeglasses.

There are also millions of aging adults whose eyesight is gradually worsening affecting their ability to drive and even their livelihoods.

These boys and girls and men and women aren’t suffering from some serious eye condition more so than simple nearsightedness or farsightedness – either of which could be easily corrected with pair of prescription glasses.

What they are suffering from is poverty, and the lack of $65.

While government assistance such as Medicare or Medicaid will cover the cost of an eye exam, what it won’t pay for is the pair of glasses themselves.

This fall, Americans Helping Americans® will be assisting 155 needy children and working poor to obtain those all-important pair of glasses.

While $65 may not sound like much to most middle-class Americans, for those struggling to keep food on the table, pay their rent, keep the utilities on and keep current on their medications, a pair of glasses is way down on the list.

But a pair of glasses could make all the difference for an adult who could lose their job if they lose their driver’s license.

And as for the children, who may not even be aware of their own diminished vision, a pair of prescription glasses will open up a whole new world for them.

Before the Fourth of July, many parents in Rogersville, Tennessee were already thinking about the upcoming school year. Not that they would be glad to have their kids back in class and no longer underfoot at home, but worrying how they would outfit them for school, according to Americans Helping Americans® partner there, Sheldon Livesay of Of One Accord.

“Since the first of July, families began coming to our front desk or office letting us know they were under crisis conditions this summer and really needed help with school supplies,” Sheldon told us. That prompted him to plan what he called a “Back to School Bash” on Saturday, August 8, to provide clients, their families and children with the supplies they would need to be prepared on the very first day of school. “We are, in our opinion, seeing greater needs in low income Appalachia families than ever before,” said Sheldon, who incorporated Of One Accord in 1990.

But Sheldon wanted to do much more that simply distribute much-needed school supplies – he wanted it to be a “bash” in the truest sense of the word. And that it was.

“The event was not just promoted as a back-pack distribution, but a summer fun time to say thanks to those clients who with interact with all year,” he said. “Everyone that participated and those that attended chimed in saying this was a great event and they greatly and deeply thankful to Americans Helping Americans® for your help and investments in Appalachia,” Sheldon told us.

And we are greatly and deeply thankful to you, generous supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, who made the “Back to School Bash” possible. We are also grateful to Sheldon for providing us with some wonderful photographs of the event, which we are happy to be able to share with you.

“These photos don’t properly convey the facts when looking at the families as a whole,” Sheldon says. “It is very evident both from the cars they arrive in to the clothing they wear, that they are in financial struggle every day.” That may be so, but what these photos do convey is the joy, pride and hope in the hearts of these young people who know that there are Americans helping Americans across the country who truly care about them, and are willing to invest in their future.

Watch our slideshow below to see what you helped make possible!

 

Summer is here, and for many high school and college age students, part of their vacation is spent helping needy homeowners in Appalachia by volunteering to work during the sweltering months of June, July and August repairing homes. The nails they hammer, the paint they roll, the wooden floor planks they cut to size, the roof shingles they staple on…are provided by you. Thanks!

Generally, working in groups of two dozen or so organized by their school or church groups, the young people spread out to West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, working with our partner organizations, to assist in the renovations of homes in need of repair, but with the homeowner having no means to pay to fix leaking roofs, sagging porches or to build a handicap ramp.

To make this happen requires partnership – the grassroots organizations who select and vet the recipients, who must own the home; the dedicated volunteers giving of their time and efforts; Americans Helping Americans® which provides grant funding for the purchase of materials such as shingles, drywall and lumber; and, of course, you, who make that funding available.

None of us could do it alone, it takes all of us with a common mission to transform unsafe and unliveable housing, with possibly even life-threating deficiencies – such as no way for residents to exit in case of a fire or structural collapse – into a home the owner can be proud of.