Keeping Americans Warm This Winter in Appalachia, With an Eye Towards Spring

Keeping Americans Warm This Winter in Appalachia, With an Eye Towards Spring

Winter has arrived in the mountains and hollows of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky,  and Tennessee, and elsewhere throughout Appalachia. Thanks to the loyal supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, thousands of children, families, and seniors are prepared. Because of our emergency utility assistance program, hundreds of households who have fallen on hard times this year will receive the extra “hand-up” they need to keep the heat and lights on. In some cases, with families who live in public housing, the program not only prevents them from having their power disconnected, but it saves them from being automatically evicted and becoming homeless. Also this winter, there are homeowners who are safe and warm in the homes they love because of Americans Helping Americans’® home rehabilitation program.

Working with small grassroots charities who organize volunteers of church and school groups, dozens of roofs are repaired, and drywall and siding are installed. In the case of the elderly and disabled, handicap ramps are built, which allow these individuals, many of whom are veterans, to get in and out of their house no matter the weather outside.

And then there are the children. We can’t bear to think of them standing out at bus stops on cold dark mornings in threadbare hand-me-down coats, or worse, only ragged sweaters and sweatshirts. Because of your generosity, this winter, 4,000 children have received heavy winter coats in their choice of a multitude of colors, which for many of them is their very first brand-new coat. In addition, to help ensure these children are snug in their beds at night, we have also distributed thousands of heavy winter blankets to families so that they will be warm during the harsh winter months.

Winter Coats for Kentucky

Winter Coats for Kentucky

The distribution of winter coats at the headquarters of our partnerCome-Unity Cooperative Care (CCC) in Laurel County, Kentucky was orderly and efficient.

That’s not an easy thing to accomplish when there are 276 coats to be distributed to children in need.

First off, before any of their clients arrived, staff and volunteers arranged the coats by size on a rack and then posted a notice that the coats were available. As clients’ requests came in, they were each registered by name, address, age, sex and size, and each child was able to try one of for size to ensure the right fit.

Just as we count on our supporters to help us fulfill the need for thousands of coats throughout Appalachia, those in this rural region of Kentucky rely on Americans Helping Americans® to provide these coats to CCC for distribution in its service area.

“Our community knows that our agency is a place of help for them when they have nowhere else to turn,” stated CCC executive director Linda Lipps.

Among those with “nowhere else to turn” was Rose who took in three of her grandchildren into her home “and they did not have coats to wear.

“CCC gave us all nice new coats,” Rose told us. “The kids are so proud to wear these pretty coats. I thank you for providing them for us.

“There was no possible way that I could have bought coats for them.”

In Beattyville, Kentucky Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center, stated it matter-of-factly, “The coats provided by Americans Helping Americans® made sure all the children were warm throughout the winter.”

Lee County has among the highest poverty rates in the country, and the need for coats is great there as many families struggle just to put food on the table, much less new coats for their children.

“Many of our families are single-parent families with one income and they are often overlooked – and the children suffer,” says Sherry. “Through this program, all children were able to come and get coats without the stigma of being ‘poor.’

“They know that we are here to help and they can come to us without fear of being made fun of or being labeled as a ‘poor’ family,” she added. “Many of our parents are from the generation that finds it difficult to ask for help and they are often embarrassed to ask for help for themselves…but they will ask for help for their children.”

Thanks to our supporters, we are able to be there to assist Sherry in her mission to ensure that they can provide EVERY SINGLE CHILD they serve with a winter coat so that not one of them has to be turned away and told the heartbreaking words that the very last coat was just given out.

Sherry recounted “one of my favorite quotes” was from a little third-grade girl as she tried on her brand new coat, after always only getting worn out hand-me-downs from her older siblings, or used coats from the local thrift shop.

“I have my very own new coat for the first time ever!” she exclaimed with glee.

And this from Sherry to our supporters expressing her gratitude on behalf of the children and families she serves for the coats:

“Americans Helping Americans® has gone beyond our wildest dreams in the way they have helped our community.

“We are so very grateful for all that Americans Helping Americans® has done for our families and our children. You have truly made a lasting impact on our families and our school.

“Without the help that we received from Americans Helping Americans® many of our children would not have had appropriate coats for the winter.

“It is wonderful to have your support.”

Sneedville Elementary students received the “Mighty Molars” dental kits

Sneedville Elementary students received the “Mighty Molars” dental kits

Hancock County has some of the best people in Tennessee, notes Brian Greene, principal of Hancock County Elementary School in the small town of Sneedville, who adds, however, “we are also a highly depressed area when it comes to jobs.”

“Because there are few jobs in the county, we have a high degree of poverty,” says Principal Greene who sees firsthand every day the strain that places on his students and their parents.

“What we think of as essentials, these families see as luxuries – like having toothbrushes and toothpaste at home.”

But thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, many of his students today have “Mighty Molars” dental kits containing toothbrushes, a six-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss to help them keep their young teeth clean and strong – before it’s too late.

“We see students who have severe toothaches who suffer through the pain because their families don’t have money for dental care,” he reported. “I see a large number of moms and dads who have either rotten or missing teeth.”

Sneedville Elementary students received the Americans Helping Americans® “Mighty Molars” dental kits at a recent back-to-school event, but we know that throughout the school year the need will continue as new students transfer into the school, also in need of basic necessities including toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“Your idea to combat dental problems and improve self-esteem through dental hygiene is one of the best ideas we’ve seen in a long time,” said Principal Greene, adding that all of the school’s teachers have agreed to reinforce good dental hygiene habits to go along with the distribution of the dental kits.

The Lunch Box Bus is rolling!

The Lunch Box Bus is rolling!

Monday, June 4, was a momentous day for hundreds of schoolchildren in Hancock and Hawkins counties, Tennessee – it was the first day of summer vacation that the Lunch Box bus came to their tiny communities bringing them a free, healthy and filling lunch.

Americans Helping Americans® is proud to be a national organization helping our partner there, Of One Accord, to make such a big difference for hungry children in the rural, northeast Appalachian region of the state.

Of One Accord Executive Director Rev. Sheldon Livesay noted at a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the 2018 kickoff of the Lunch Box bus program which is now in its 13th year that they are on track to serve the 100,000th meal this summer.

In a video prepared for the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, Rev. Livesay explained why the program is so necessary for the children they serve.

In large cities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program is able to serve hundreds of children living within a few blocks of a feeding site, such as a school, church or community center.

“That’s not the case here in rural Appalachia,” he said.

Since the children can’t get to the meals, the meals are brought to the children on four Lunch Box buses which will operate for more than 40 weekdays this summer.

The buses traverse the rural two-lane roadways through the mountains to remote mobile home parks, community centers and low-income communities where between 15 to 25 kids and youth hop on, enjoy lunch with their siblings, friends, and neighbors, and hop off full and ready for an afternoon of fun with no worries about when they’re going to get their next meal.

“It takes several different stops to begin capturing those numbers of children and making it possible for everybody who needs help to get help,” he said.

While Of One Accord is reimbursed for the cost of the food itself by the USDA, it is up to Rev. Livesay to come up with the roughly $30,000 cost to operate the program which includes, bus fuel and maintenance, insurance, driver’s salaries and other miscellaneous expenses.

And thanks to our supporters we are able to help with a substantial portion of those costs.

“Americans Helping Americans® is a national organization that is supporting us this year,” stated Rev. Livesay in the video kicking off the 2018 season. “They’re doing a fundraiser for us through the month, and we certainly want to thank you, Americans Helping Americans®.

“God bless each and everyone one of you.”

Electric for Mr. Jones

Electric for Mr. Jones

For the first time in 65 years of married life, after coming home from the hospital himself, Mr. Jones was scared his wife would also return from the hospital to a cold home.

He had been out for three hours driving from one church to another determined to find someone who would help him pay his electric bill before the disconnect date on his notice. He didn’t know where to go for this was the first time in his eighty-four-year-old life that he had been in this situation.

He had been in the hospital for three weeks recently and his wife was actually in the hospital at the present time. The expense of medication upon his release from the hospital was more than his monthly social security income. He had a disconnect notice from both the electric and water companies in the mail that the neighbor had piled on the kitchen table. His wife was due to be released to come home with home health care within the next week. He knew this could not happen if the utilities were disconnected.

The office worker at one of the churches that he visited told him to our partner, Come-Unity Cooperative Care. “They are your best chance for help,” she told him. They were able to pay all his bill except for the $100 that he was given by the church.

Moments like this would not be possible without the support we receive from our supporters.

Lack of dental care hurts

Lack of dental care hurts

We help to provide dental health tools for children in Appalachia because there is clear evidence that dental inequality hurts them in ways that many people can’t imagine.

You may know, for example, that there “are striking disparities in dental disease by income. Poor children suffer twice as much [tooth decay] as their more affluent peers, and their disease is more likely to be untreated. These poor-nonpoor differences continue into adolescence. One out of four children in America is born into poverty, and children living below the poverty line (annual income of $17,000 for a family of four) have more severe and untreated decay.” – Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (Executive Summary).

But did you know that poor dental health has serious economic ramifications that leave communities stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty?

According to the New York Times“[p]eople with bad teeth can be stigmatized, both in social settings and in finding employment. Studies document that we make judgments about one another — including about intelligence — according to the aesthetics of teeth and mouth.

About one-third of adults with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty level (low enough to be eligible for Medicaid in states that adopted the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion) report that the appearance of their teeth and mouth affected their ability to interview for a job. By comparison, only 15 percent of adults with incomes above 400 percent of the poverty level feel that way.”

In short, children in poverty are more likely to have poor dental health, and this ultimately makes it more difficult for them to find a job and escape poverty. Thus, the cycle continues, and continues, and continues.

This is why we take dental health so seriously. Because the future of children in Appalachia depends on it.