Captain Obvious would say, “I am learning that people who did not have enough income to meet their basic needs before the pandemic, are facing even greater challenges during this pandemic.” Years in an economic system that employed many at low pay, benefited some greatly, while extracting resources from the region, has left Appalachia struggling with persistent poverty. The industries that drove that economy are in decline. Now add a pandemic.
Each of the four priorities of Together for Hope are impacted. For example:
1. Education: Already under-resourced schools, now must teach online. The lack of broadband internet in some areas makes online learning next to impossible for many children. Will future budgets make even deeper cuts in education due to the economic impact of the coronavirus?
2. Health & Nutrition: Covid19 is a disease that attacks the lungs, raising fears among coal miners suffering from Black Lung Disease. On top of that, many in Appalachia have access to fewer health care professionals and must travel longer distances for care. For instance, there are no hospitals in McCreary County, KY. Not a healthy situation, especially during a health care crisis.
3. Housing & Environment: More than 15,000 volunteers worked on home repair for low-income families last year through our partner, Appalachian Service Project. The number of families they will be able to help this year will be dramatically reduced. They say they are trying to prioritize the most urgent needs, but all of the needs are urgent.
4. Social Enterprise: Small businesses, so vital to a more diverse economy in Appalachia, are at risk.
The situation in Appalachia is dire but not hopeless. People and groups within and outside the region are stepping up. Scarlette Jasper, CBF Field Personnel with Together for Hope, works to supplement food banks with funds and supplies you are giving her. People have been generous in their support for a Virtual Walk-Ride-Run-Swim for hunger relief through Scarlette’s Olive Branch Ministries. Relief supplies have been rolling in as a result of the CBF Kentucky and Tennessee collection, “On a Roll for Scarlette.” Churches like FBC Corbin, FBC Williamsburg, FBC Middlesboro, and FBC Morehead are continuing their feeding programs and support for local programs in Appalachia. Organizations like MACED, SKED, Sustainable Business Ventures, Gro Appalachia, Kentucky Highlands Corporation, FAHE, and others support local businesses in innovative ways and encourage diverse and eco-friendly economic development. Travis Lowe, and the Crea Company, a makers’ space and a part of the Bridges for Hope family, are providing jobs while producing PPEs for local organizations in Bluefield, WV-VA.
Many people, churches, and organization are rising to the occasion to help. We hope the effects of this pandemic raise awareness of the inequities that contribute to poverty. I fear, though, that those living in poverty will be asked to make even greater sacrifices, in cuts to health, education, income, and the safety net, so that the rest of us don’t have to. Let us advocate for hope over fear.