Big Lick seeks help to assist Kentucky families
By Jo Grey, for the SNAP
Who thinks about Christmas when Old Glory is waving from every flower pot or neighborhood mailbox, and the air sizzles with 90-degree temperatures?
Maybe only Christmas crafters and Susan Flowe from Oakboro’s Big Lick Baptist Church. But she wants the people of Stanly County to also think about Christmas and the children of Appalachia.
In the summer of 2017 Flowe was not only thinking about Christmas, she was talking to God about it.
“I felt led to do something with kids,” said Flowe.
“God, please show me where the need is,” she prayed.
Doing something with kids must be in Flowe’s DNA. Almost every day during the school year, she serves as a long-term substitute at West Stanly Middle School. Over the years she’s gotten to know many of the students and sees herself as a listener. She believes not all students have someone at home who listens.
“I just want to make a difference,” she says.
That desire to make a difference brought Flowe in contact with Tanya Walls and a ministry called Hope for Appalachia.
Walls suggested she get in touch with Leatherwood Elementary School near the Eastern Kentucky town of Hazard. The school serves kindergarten through eighth grade children in a region hit extremely hard by the shrinking coal and lumber industries.
As the people of Stanly County know, recovery from industry shut-downs doesn’t happen overnight. Think of the loss from closed textile mills and a shuttered aluminum plant.
Eighty to 100 percent of children there receive free or reduced rate school lunches, according to Walls. She also says many children are homeless; their parents are in jail or on drugs.
Hope for Appalachia works with the local Family Resource Youth Service Center.
“We are in need of people to help us provide these children with the stuff they need and the love they don’t get elsewhere,” said Walls.
After Flowe called the Leatherwood principal last August, she and her husband, Mitchell, drove to Kentucky to see for themselves. They carted boxes of hoodies for the children, and after observing and listening, knew they’d be returning to Leatherwood in December.
Back at church, Flowe told about a kindergarten boy with six siblings who came to school in pajamas and flip-flops, who only ate soft foods because most of his baby-teeth had been extracted. She told of children wearing flip-flops and lightweight jackets even in winter.
The needs birthed a vision to provide a backpack for each Leatherwood child filled with school supplies, hygiene items, clothing, food and Christmas gifts.
Since Flowe was teaching almost every day, a small committee served as her hands and feet: Avon Morton, Linda Griffin and Gayle Hinson.
They devised an extensive list of items for the children and got to work spreading the word. The Baptist women’s organization, Woman’s Missionary Union, gave time, money and encouragement, as did Sunday school classes.
“Everywhere we turned, help came in. This church is so big-hearted and giving, it’s unreal,” said Flowe.
Generous monetary donations in excess of $5,000 made it possible to shop for new toys, coats and shoes.
Meanwhile, a “warehouse” was set up in Harold and Linda Griffin’s garage where Griffin’s daughter, Kim Efird, and her friend, Ann Payne, sorted and tallied everything from erasers to backpacks.
The garage overflowed so they staged coats and shoes at the church.
Flowe made doll blankets.
Terri Helms knitted 172 hats — one for every child.
At the end of November, backpacks were stuffed into large boxes labeled by grade level, then packed in a large trailer to be pulled behind Adam Miller’s truck.
Pastor Jeff Springer and his wife Michelle, Avon Morton and her husband Lynn, C.A. and Gayle Hinson, Tina Bowers and daughter Sarah, Terri Helms and daughter Rachel, along with the Griffins and the Flowes, made up the delivery team.
On a very cold December day the group from Stanly County arrived at Leatherwood School to a warm welcome. Older students helped unload and carry boxes. Soon children sat on the gym floor with loveys, dolls, books, play dough, puzzles, toy trucks, games and new clothing spilling out everywhere.
The Big Lick folks passed around brown bags of fruit and candy, then donned Christmas costumes and transformed the youngest children into angels or animals using halos and donkey masks.
Together they acted out the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth.
“A lot of children wouldn’t get Christmas if it wasn’t for them,” said Walls. “They helped us greatly in loving on these children and showing them the love of Christ.”
At the end of the day as the team was getting ready to leave, a fifth-grade teacher rushed out to make her own delivery — letters of thanks written by her class.
“I’ll keep those letters till the day I die,” says Flowe.
Flowe and her can-do team are exploring options, but they could use support from other churches or individuals in Stanly County.
Since Kentucky schools open in early August, right now — in July — is the time to think about Christmas 2018 and the children.
“If enough support comes through, we’re ready to go,” Flowe says.
Contact Susan Flowe directly at 704-322-8648 or through Big Lick Baptist Church at 704-485-8208.
Jo Grey is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.
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