Throughout Appalachia, it not uncommon, in fact, it’s more likely the norm, that children show up for school wearing worn out, hand-me-down shoes, often with more “hole” than “soul,” or even worse, arriving for class wearing nothing but flip-flops on the coldest days of winter.
That’s why many years ago, Americans Helping Americans® initiated our Barefeet program, either shipping thousands of pairs of shoes to our partner organizations just before the start of the new school year for distribution, along with thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies, to ensure students appropriate footwear to keep their feet warm and dry all winter long, or by providing our partners with cash grants enabling children to go into a shoe store and pick out their very own pair of brand-new shoes, for many for the very first time.
Despite the fact that so far this year most schools have not yet resumed in-class learning, that does not mean these children do not need – and deserve – a new pair of shoes as the cold winter days will be here be for we know it.
In Beattyville, Kentucky, our partner there, the Lee District Family Resource Center (FRC) located in the Lee County Elementary School, works with children in grades K-5 and their parents, children, grandparents, and guardians to reduce non-academic barriers for them, explained coordinator Paige Denniston.
“We work to provide shoes, clothes, school supplies, food, housing, counseling, and other forms of service,” says Paige. “It is the mission of the FRC to make sure that all parents and students have the items the child needs to succeed in school and feel good about themselves and meet their goals. We strive to ensure all children are treated equally and have every opportunity to succeed in school.”
Pages notes that a New York Times report from a few years ago, that Lee County is considered to be one of the “hardest” places to live in the country “based on poverty levels, college education, household income, joblessness, disability rates, and life expectancy.
“Due to these factors, many of our children don’t even have the basic needs and items such as warm clothes, shoes, and school supplies are not considered ‘needs,’ they are considered luxuries.”
Through the Barefeet cash grant program, Paige explained that “Students, who are deemed by the FRC and staff to be in dire need of new shoes and the boost in self-esteem that would accompany receiving this necessity, will be taken to a local business to purchase a pair of shoes that fit properly and are age-appropriate, allowing them to get long-term use.”
She also pointed out that there is no other local program where children are allowed to actively participate and select their very own brand-new shoes adding, “Often children are given whatever shoes are available, and often these do not fit properly.”
And without Americans Helping Americans® Barefeet program, “Most students would continue to go without properly fitting shoes that are in good condition, leading to foot conditions and mental worry, which takes their focus off their academics.”
The story is much the same in Gainesville and Cleveland, Georgia, were our both our long-time partner’s LAMP Ministries and Caring Hands Ministries, respectively, use the funding available to them through our Barefeet program to purchase shoes for the children most in need in their communities.
LAMP Ministries was founded in 1995 with the mission of changing the world by changing the lives of children, one child at a time.
“As the needs of our community has grown over the years, our mission has grown to include reaching out to children, parents, teenagers, and all in Hall and surrounding counties,” says LAMP executive director Mary Mauricio. “Due to COVID-19 this year the needs of those in the communities we serve are greater than ever.”
And with the Barefeet program cash grant, with a relatively small amount of money per child, Mary will be able accomplish the easily rectified problem of ensuring that “children who have worn out shoes, or shoes that are too small, will have shoes that fit to wear to school and out to play.”
Caring Hands Ministries was founded in 1995 and remains to this day a non-profit organization driven entirely by volunteers, most of whom who have experienced firsthand themselves what it means to be in need of assistance during the most difficult times of their lives, which executive director Lafaye Murphy notes “provides a new level of caring in what we do.”
Lafaye told us that in Cleveland and the surrounding area they serve “there’s a large impoverished community.
“Often only one pair of shoes is provided every few years and then is passed on to younger siblings afterwards, which means they become worn out quickly and become ragged. In some situations, such as during wintertime, a large know of students are known for wearing only sandals – even in the snow – as they were bought for just $1 during the summer.
“The lack of proper shoes often leads to bullying, suspensions from school due to ‘lack of proper appearance,’ and injuries to the children (including frostbite) from the elements and ill-fitting shoes (which can cause blisters and lead to infections).
“In our area, very few programs provide new shoes for children,” she added. “We’re one of the very few which serves as many children as possible with a pair of brand-new shoes. Thanks to Americans Helping Americans® we have been able to help many children and families each year.”
For many Appalachian parents, being able to support the educational efforts of their children can be challenging.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to plague the communities you help us serve, the topic that is on most parents’ minds is what they’re going to do when school is in session.
Thanks to supporters like you, we’re helping to give these children options. From providing school supplies to helping create online opportunities so that teens are safe, we believe in the youth of Appalachia and their educational endeavors.
Along with providing teens in Beattyville, Kentucky with Coronavirus Learning Pods, we also want to make sure elementary school children will be able to continue their studies even if they have computers at home, but not internet access.
That’s why Americans Helping Americans® is providing 200 flash drives to them.
This is part of the digital divide, or simply, families who have access to computers and broadband internet at home and those that do not. Many school children in Appalachia live with no computer and broadband internet access at home. That means that low-income students without computers cannot do their homework. They cannot conduct research for school projects. They cannot email their teachers if they have a question or need guidance. They cannot do their assignments when school isn’t in session.
For years, we’ve worked with our partner, Lee County Family Resource Center (LCFRC), in Beattyville to provide a computer to needy children at Beattyville Elementary School.
With the flash drives, students will be able to receive their assignments from their teachers, complete their classwork and upload it onto the flash drive and return the flash drive to their teachers.
With your help, we can help hundreds of children in Beattyville are able to adapt to the educational challenges facing the community.
At Americans Helping Americans, our partners throughout Appalachia strive to project what the most pressing needs will be for those most in need in their communities in terms of food, basic needs, education and more, for the year ahead.
But no one could have anticipated the hardships that would be imposed on those families and seniors already struggling to get by in these times of the coronavirus pandemic.
Our grassroots partners have limited means, few staff, and we’re already stretched to their limits in operating their programs, and we understand that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Within the past week, we have been hearing from many of them as they have been forced to cancel well-established programs for the foreseeable future as other dire needs have emerged.
In these extraordinary times, they must adapt, and we are giving them the flexibility to use their grant funding to adjust the services they offer to put these resources to best use.
For our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, which has for many years operated a popular free summer camp for children and youth, the tough, but necessary, decision to cancel camp this summer had to be made.
Among the benefits of the summer camp program for the older youth is its Teens in a Leadership program in which the youth who had attended the camp for several years as children are put into mentorship roles providing the younger children a positive role model to look up to.
Instead, this year, these promising teens will be contributing to their community through service projects, such as delivering food boxes door-to-door to senior citizens and the disabled this summer.
When a partner inquired as to whether we had much-in-demand face masks, it turned out that we had a few thousand on hand which we could provide them.
While non-perishable food boxes will always be in demand, we are also receiving numerous requests from our partners for soap and other personal hygiene items, as well as disposable diapers. So, we have adjusted our focus as well and will soon be shipping thousands of bars of soap, diapers and other items in the knowledge that sadly, this is likely just the beginning of a long, difficult summer.
None of what we do, and a lot of what our partners do, would be possible without the generosity of Americans Helping Americans whose support we, and our partners and their clients, rely on month after month, year after year.
These are uncharted waters, but with your help, we are helping thousands of our fellow Americans steer their way through the storm and make it the calmer waters we have faith are coming in the months to follow.
Despite the concern about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, people in Appalachia still have to eat — particularly healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits they are able to grow in their own backyard or neighborhood community gardens.
Among our newest partners are Sprouting Hope in Marion, Virginia, and Refresh Appalachia in Huntington, West Virginia, which are soldiering on as best they can even in these most disturbing of times.
And as they are, so are we at Americans Helping Americans in the knowledge that they are counting on us to continue our financial support to assist them in helping those in their communities with establishing their gardens as the growing season is just getting ready to begin.
Sprouting Hope’s mission is to feed the community by growing and sharing healthy produce, with the vision of everyone having access to healthy food.
“With a focus on serving and empowering low-income individuals, we not only give a fish but also teach how to fish by making the program accessible for participants to work and learn in the garden,” states Sprouting Hope on its website.
Program coordinator Mandy Hart reported this week that the organization’s operations have not been affected yet, although they are taking precautions including putting its Homegrowers course online making it available to residents in the community.
“The Homegrown program will continue,” says Mandy. “We just have to get a bit more creative.”
In Huntington, Refresh Appalachia, with support from Americans Helping Americans, is working to create a garden on an unused tract at a community center in a low-income public housing community located in what is known as a “food desert” where the nearest actual grocery store is miles away.
These projects are vital to the health and wellbeing of the residents in the communities, and they MUST go on!
During this turbulent time, we want to let you know how much we truly appreciate your support of Americans Helping Americans®.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve reached out to our partner organizations and even though meeting their needs has become more challenging, many of them have actually increased their workloads to help their individual communities.
This has meant extending the hours of their food pantries, delivering food and other household goods to their neighbors (especially to the elderly and disabled), and sharing messages of hope and togetherness on social media.
As scary as this time is for all of us, and despite our worry over how families will get through this, we’re content in the knowledge that we’re all in this together and we will get through this.
Among them is one of our newest partners, 5 Loaves & 2 Fishes in Welch, West Virginia, which has extended its capacity to serve more families in their distressed community, and particularly children who are not getting free meals while schools are closed indefinitely throughout the state.
They are taking ‘call-ins’ now to adhere to strict social distancing rules. Appointments are made throughout the day for residents to arrive and get their meal boxes that have been reserved.
Americans are sticking together, and in many cases, going above and beyond the call of duty just to help.
All of us are working to ensure that the needs of Appalachian families are met, and it’s only through your continuing support that this has been made possible.
From all of us at Americans Helping Americans®, thank you for standing with us.
We would like to acknowledge the employees at Old Dominion Freight Lines (ODFL) as the recipients of the Americans Helping Americans® – Helpers of the Month award for March! Congratulations, guys!
While it may seem odd to nominate a whole group of people, believe us when we say, they have been doing incredible work for our partner Appalachian Outreach (AO) in Jefferson City, Tennessee for many years.
What stands out about this group is their willingness to help. Every February, they host Appalachian Outreach’s “Souper Bowl of Caring” and this year, they collected 3,226 pounds of food at a time when our partner’s food pantry was bare.
This year, AO has seen an increase in the number of families in need of food. Recently, a plea for the community for support was sent out, and the employees at ODFL were the first to answer the call.
Shortly afterwards, the group delivered close to 3,600 pounds of food.
Because of their act of kindness, AO’s pantry was stocked and families were served.
Appalachian Outreach’s Executive Director Jean-Ann Washam said, “Without people like this we would not be able to serve our families that are in need. I am so thankful for their support.”
The Helper of the Month Award is designed to show the amazing, wonderful, hard-working, and dedicated people in the Appalachian communities we serve every day. Each month, we’ll be sharing these stories with you in the hopes that you’ll walk away as inspired as we are to do good things in your community!