By Colleen Rowan
On a rainy July afternoon in the small Mingo County community of Kermit in southern West Virginia, a local woman sifted through a table of donated apparel at Christian Help, Inc.’s free clothing store. The outreach center was full that day, and she was among many seeking help.
“The economy is so poor here it’s hard for people to even clothe their children and grandchildren. There’s no work, there’s really no recreation here, there’s nothing,” she said as the blaring horn of a passing train outside muffled her words. She wished to remain anonymous, but wanted to express how bad things are in Mingo County. “Without this place we would be lost,” she said. “A lot of kids would not have what they need, people would not have the food they need.”
She gave a quick smile after sharing her thoughts, and then returned to her survey of the apparel.
For almost 25 years, Christian Help has been present in Kermit providing the free clothing store as well as a food pantry, furniture and household items and, when possible, financial assistance to help with utilities, rent, medication, gasoline, propane and kerosene. Christian Help is a nondenominational, donation and grant-supported outreach center for low to no income residents.
“I went through a divorce three years ago and was left with nothing, and these people helped me out with clothing and food, whatever I needed,” said another Mingo County resident there that day who also wished to remain anonymous. “They provided… and I thank God everyday for them.”
Christian Help is headed by Sister Therese Carew, a Franciscan Sister of the Sacred Heart of Frankfort, Ill., executive director. For the people she has served for the last nine years, life is not easy she said. What she would like people to know about this area of the state, is that the absence of job opportunities is the greatest detriment.
“Once mining went down, which was the big employment here, you noticed from Logan and do
wn the absence of factories or anything,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Well go out and get a job.’ First of all, you have to be able to get there and there has to be an employer. Other than the Kermit K-8 School, we are the next largest employer and I have a total of eight employees—four part-time, four full-time.”
Christian Help is situated beside the Tug Fork River in Kermit. Beside the building is a small bridge spanning the river. On the other side is neighboring Martin County, Ky., whose residents also come to Christian Help for assistance. The nearest Wal-Mart is almost 40 minutes away in Logan or 35 minutes away in Louisa, Ky. Thankfully, Sister Carew said, Kermit does have a Family Dollar and Dollar General.
The closest hospital is a half hour away, she said. “If a trauma hospital is needed you would be airlifted to Huntington which is an hour drive,” she said. “If you are going to be airlifted from Kermit, they shut off the bridge over the Tug River and land the helicopter there, tying up the bridge for over an hour. There is no other flat land space. The only other access across the river is 45 minutes north or 30 minutes south.”
Earlier this summer, in a talk she gave at St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Ky., Sister Carew said that Christian Help was getting ready to help area children get ready for the new school year. M
artin County families are given school supplies and no allowance for clothing, she said, and Mingo County families get a
clothing voucher and no supplies. “We are a nondenominational Christian emergency assistance agency, helping some of the poorest of folks in America,” she said in her talk.
“We provide what isn’t, so our kids have what is needed to start the school year to be as successful as possible,” she said in her talk. “Often the shoes we provide is the only pair of shoes they will have, and they come in barefoot to be provided their shoes.”
Another issue for the area is the opioid crisis, which West Virginia as a whole has suffered from over the past few years. However, it has been especially hard on Kermit, Sister Carew said. In her talk at St. Agnes she emphasized just how bad it is in her community. “Kermit, a town with a population of 392, is known as the opioid capital of the U.S.,” she said in her talk. “We have been featured on 60 minutes regarding this crisis—a single pharmacy in Kermit, received roughly 9 million pills over the course of two years.”
Because of the opioid crisis, she said, the area has one of the highest death tolls resulting from overdose. And this, she said, has brought even greater challenges to a community that has already suffered so much. “We have lots of grandparents raising their grandchildren, because of death o
r incarceration of the parents,” she said in her talk. “If social services remove the children from a home, they literally hand the child to the family members taking them, often with no supplies provided.”
Because of this, she said, Christian Help is in need of diapers, wipes, bottles and sippy cups. Christian Help shares a building with the Congregation of St. Joseph sponsored A.B.L.E. Families (Affirming, Believing, Learning, Empowering) headed by Sister Pat Murray, OSF, executive director. Together, they help address the needs of the poor from different angles.
“The way I describe the two is: ‘If you feed a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime,’” Sister Carew said. “Their goal is sustainability out of poverty (through) education. They are the afterschool program for the kids, they feed them a nutritious snack before they go home for the evening, (provide a place to) get their homework done, give them computer access; and they have the MIHOW program, which is mother, infant, health, outreach, worker so they work with the moms from conception to 3 when the kids go to Head Start. So they are teaching the man to fish, get out of poverty, better yourself—the educational piece. We’re the immediate food, clothing, shelter, transportation side.”
Christian Help added the transportation component 18 years ago, bringing people to see doctors in Logan. There is no public transportation in Mingo County, and many residents do not have cars. “We have about four drivers on the road Monday through Friday,” Sister Carew said. Christian Help provides the free demand-response transit service to take people to doctors, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, pharmacies, the Social Security office, WIC, stores, the post office, and any place they need to go. Christian Help also works to meet needs beyond what is received in donations, especially dental care, dentures, eyeglasses which are not covered by Medicaid. Christian Help depends solely on donations and grants.
The following is information is for those who would like to provide monetary support or donations of food, clothing, furniture or household items for Christian Help. To send a check or a box of donations, the regular U.S. Postal Service address is: Christian Help, Inc., PO Box 1257, Kermit, WV 25674. When using UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, or any other delivery service, the addres
s is: Christian Help, Inc., Virginia and Lincoln Streets, Kermit, WV 25674. If bringing a car or truck load of donations or for more information, call the center first at (304) 393-4251.