Posted on : Friday May 1, 2009

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent

GARRET, Ky.—Melissa Gibson, director of God’s Helping Hands, a mission that works in partnership with Garrett First Church and the Enterprise Baptist Association in Garret, Ky., said times are getting harder in the Appalachia. She and volunteers pack boxes filled with canned goods and other non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies and toiletries for about 200 people each month.

Gibson has been working with the mission for four years. She began after seeing a man bring a baby without a diaper to church. The man was asking the church for help.

“It broke my heart,” Gibson said.

She pours out heart-wrenching stories of the people she sees every day. Families don’t have food in their homes. Gibson regularly makes special boxes for a 72-year-old man who has no running water or electricity in his home. She fills his boxes with foods he can just open and eat. One man came to the mission and was thrilled to find an old recliner. His family had no furniture. He was taking the seat from an old car in the house so they wouldn’t have to sit on the floor. One lady uses a coal stove and hangs fans above it to heat her house.

It’s always difficult in the Appalachia area, but lately Gibson said it has been worse. Recently a school called because some of the children were without food. The school administrator had called many different food ministries but no one had anything left except for God’s Helping Hands. In fact, recently, mission workers are filling backpacks with food so kids can take them home to their rooms and eat.

“It’s the truth. This is the way people live here. Seventy-three percent of the kids here live under the poverty level,” Gibson said.

“Melissa is working in the heart of poverty in Appalachia,” Bill Barker, director of Appalachian Regional Ministry said. “She is in the coal fields.”

Barker said miners will tell you “my daddy was a miner and my daddy’s daddy was a miner.”

“They can’t think of any other employment,” Barker said.

With industry coming in, profits going out and now with the emphasis on “clean coal,” and holds on strip mining and mining permits, the industry is hunkering down. In addition, the economic decline has hit the food ministries hard. Some foundations that provided food lost 70 percent of their money. The people in Appalachia are hurting bad.

Gibson has some personal worries. Her husband works for a coal mining company.

Both Gibson and Barker say there is a critical need for diapers, especially for larger babies and toddlers. Gibson said she needs sizes 3-5. Food and cleaning supplies are always needed as well. Barker said shipping items to the area is costly. The most effective way to help, he said, is to send Wal-Mart gift cars so centers can purchase the food and diapers and other supplies as needed.

Appalachian Regional Ministry is supported by 11 Southern Baptist state conventions in partnership with the North American Mission Board and the Women’s Missionary Union. The ministry works to meet the physical, but most importantly, the spiritual needs of people living in the Appalachian region through mobilization of Baptist churches using their God-given resources to evangelize and to assist existing churches and start new churches in the area.

For general information about the needs in Appalachia, contact Bill Barker at (606) 316-4298 or at bbarker@arminitry.org. Barker assesses needs and distributes donations to the ministries as needed, including God’s Helping Hands.