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Appalachia mine closures strain ministry centers

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (BP) — Ministries in Appalachia are bracing for a tough winter as hundreds of residents have been furloughed or lost their jobs because of cutbacks in coal production amid the nation’s changing energy industry.

A single employer, Arch Coal, laid off 750 workers across Appalachia in August. Other companies have been forced to idle employees or close operations.

Added stress on an already economically depressed area has created a sense of urgency among a number of Baptist ministry centers.

“These ministry centers rely on in-kind donations as well as financial contributions,” said Eric Allen, leader of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s missions mobilization team. “There’s no doubt that their resources will be stretched thin because of the increased need in these communities.”

John Fitzwater and his wife Melissa direct Loaves and Fishes Ministry in Lynch, Ky., as Mission Service Corps missionaries. The ministry provides food boxes to the needy each month.

On a recent Thursday evening, “we had 66 new [people] or regulars who had not come to get a box in months,” Fitzwater said. “We usually average about 200 boxes per month. We gave out 225 [in July].” Now that the layoffs are in effect, the Fitzwaters expect demand to go even higher in coming months.

Judy Caulder, who directs Kentucky Sacks of Love in Benham, Ky., with her husband Frankie, said needs already were profound even before the mine shutdowns. Kentucky Sacks of Love provides backpacks, school supplies, clothing and other necessities to needy children.

Before the school year began, “teachers were anticipating more students being eligible to participate [in Sacks of Love],” Caulder said. “We assisted with clothing and school supplies at two schools before school started and overheard several parents comment that they did not know what they would do without the giveaways.”

Allen noted that it is often during times of great need that God’s people and His love shine brightest.

“Each of these ministries is focused on sharing the Gospel as well as meeting physical needs,” he said. “Kentucky Baptists can have confidence as they support these works.”

Other ministry centers reporting a need for added support are Freedom Center Ministries, Inc., in Lynch and God’s Love from a Diaper Bag in Jenkins.

Another ministry in need of food donations is Emergency Christian Ministry in Williamsburg, Ky. Director Bill Woodward said the shelter’s location creates the demand, not mine layoffs.

The shelter is only three blocks from an I-75 exit. People come because their vehicles are out of gas and there’s no money to fill the tank, or maybe the car has broken down. Still others come on foot. Woodward said the needs are basic — a safe place with a meal and a bed until they figure out their next step.

“We have enough food for our clients,” he said, but until recently the ministry also had enough to provide emergency food aid to families in need, even if they weren’t staying at the shelter.

Woodward said demand “usually picks up in October,” and he hopes the pantry can be restocked by then. “The Lord will make a way,” he added.

David Aker, director of missions for South Union/Mt. Zion Baptist Association, said Emergency Christian Ministry “is thought to be one of the last centers for food operations” left in the area.

Gifts to Southern Baptists’ World Hunger Fund assist ministries in Appalachia and elsewhere in the U.S. and the world. For details, visit www.worldhungerfund.com.
Dannah Prather is the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s marketing & media relations associate. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Dannah Prather