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.
Mothers 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.
Spring has finally sprung and the sounds of birds chirping and bees buzzing can be heard throughout Appalachia.
But what is really music to our ears at Americans Helping Americans® is the sound of nails being hammered as roofs are being repaired, porches are being rebuilt and handicap ramps are being built so that the elderly and disabled are able to get in and out of their home on their own.
Each spring, the home repair season starts in communities in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia where Americans Helping Americans® provides financial grants to our partner organizations who organize volunteers to do much-needed repairs for homeowners in need.
So thanks to you dozens of homes will no longer have leaky roofs and residents will be able to enjoy the beautiful spring weather on their new, safe, front porch.