John Denver sang a beautiful ode to West Virginia with his hit Take me Home Country Roads: “Country roads, take me home to the place I belong. West Virginia, Mountain Mama, take me home, country roads.”
West Virginia is a naturally beautiful state with a rich and interesting history. Once part of the state of Virginia, tourists travel here to take in the sites, and ski, fish, hike, rock climb and whitewater raft.
West Virginia is also known for its coal mining industry. The state is one of the premier coal-mining regions in the world. Since the 1970s the annual tonnage produced has increased, but the number employed in the industry has steadily declined because of mechanization, improved mining techniques and productivity.
For many coal miners and their families, this lack of work in very rural areas of the state has brought with it poverty.
In July 2001, Rose Hart, who lives near Wheeling, happened to have on CNN when she saw a report about a horrific flood in the southwest corner of the state in coal country. “I thought we’ve got to do something,” she said in a recent interview.
Hart, generous locals and volunteers were able to collect 45 tons of furniture, bedding, other household items and building materials along with $6,000, which was used for portable heaters and tools for rebuilding, and take it to those in desperate need 12 hours away. Truck driver Diana Stout made the long journey each time supplies were transported.
From September to December Hart was able to collect another 40 tons of much needed supplies.
In early 2002, Hart said she and Stout prayed about continuing as a non-profit charitable organization. They sought the advice of an accountant and an attorney. By May, Appalachian Outreach, Inc. (AOI) was a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
AOI has grown to two locations in Glen Dale and Wheeling. “There are many areas in need,” Hart said. “We need contacts in each area of West Virginia to know who is in need.
Students from St. John's University in New York get ready to ship gifts and blankets to Appalachian Outreach, Inc.
“Major organizations stay in urban areas,” she explained. “But rural communities are in need too. There is high unemployment and substance abuse. Employers don’t want to start businesses because they don’t have a viable workforce (because of substance abuse). They can’t get employees so these areas can’t attract employers.”
The cycle has plunged whole communities into poverty.
“We need baby items, dishes, utensils, toiletries and personal hygiene; anything they can’t buy with food stamps,” said Hart.
From a decision made nearly 20 years ago, more than 600,000 individuals have been served by AOI with nearly 4,000 tons of much needed supplies. “We are grateful for all the help we receive. The need just keeps getting greater.”
Items can be dropped off at, or mailed to, 13 West View Lane, Glen Dale, WV 26038. For more information on needed items click here.