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Stretching to meet needs in Appalachia

UMCOR grant feeds hungry families in Appalachia

Henderson Settlement and Red Bird Mission, United Methodist ministries in Appalachia, have received strong support from Michigan for many years. Learn how they are coping with coronavirus.

General Board of Global Ministries

Masks for Appalachia
Red Bird Mission Senior Center activities have been temporarily halted by COVID-19. But those who previously attended have been spending their time at home making masks for the staff at Red Bird Mission so they may work with clients safely. ~ Facebook/Red Bird Mission

Next year, Red Bird Mission will celebrate its 100th anniversary. As a former Evangelical United Brethren mission, it became part of Global Ministries’ National Division in 1968. The mission, based in Beverly, serves Clay, Bell, and Leslie counties in Southeastern Kentucky, each of which has a population of about 20,000. Today, Red Bird Mission, with its board of directors, offers a Christian School for Pre-K-12th grade students. There are a health clinic and program ministries with elders, families, women, and children. Economic opportunity is enhanced through a craft marketing program and store. Householders are assisted with gaining access to clean water and a thriving home maintenance ministry that normally brings 2,500 volunteers a year to the area.

“This UMCOR Rapid Response grant couldn’t have come at a better time,” noted Tracy Nolan, Red Bird Mission’s community outreach director. She is a Registered Nurse who also assists with the mission’s community health nursing and eldercare programs.

“We were already addressing hunger relief issues and how to supply basic needs like diapers, wipes, and formula for families daily,” she said. “When this pandemic hit, it hurt us on multiple levels. We began seeing new clients that had never come to our offices before because of lay-offs and unemployment.”

Even those who could get to a store to buy groceries found empty shelves. Infant supplies were scarce. Personal protection equipment was difficult to find, but eventually, Red Bird received the shipments it needed.

“If we had not gotten this grant, we could not have stepped up to meet the real-time needs,” Nolan confirmed. “There aren’t many other agencies in this rural community that could respond quickly. A lot of the food banks either wholly closed or dropped service hours because of a lack of staff and supplies.

“I think this grant was also a catalyst for others,” Nolan said. “When people saw UMCOR respond, and they saw us helping ourselves, then others contacted us, and they stepped up and helped with in-kind food and diaper donations, so we were able to meet the increased demand for three months. And it was beautiful to see so many different partners.”

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About an hour’s drive southwest of Red Bird Mission, Henderson Settlement, in Frakes, KY, has also found ways to reach more people during the pandemic. Founded in 1923 by Hiram Frakes, a Methodist pastor, Henderson serves people in three counties in Kentucky and two in Tennessee. Henderson is also affiliated with Global Ministries through the former Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Feeding kids and seniors in Appalachia
Cheeseburger meals are a big hit served up to go by cooks at Henderson Settlement. ~ Facebook/Henderson Settlement

A direct result of COVID-19 has been that Henderson had to lay off 40 out of 50 staff members. With 50 employees, Henderson was the largest employer in its area. James Knight, the ministry’s executive director, acknowledged the hardship in a letter to constituents, but also urged people to shift their inward focus on fear and self-preservation to an outward focus on the impact the situation is having on others.

“Those among us with the least resources to weather the storm are typically the most dramatically impacted by it,” Knight said.

Tammy Teague, the director of Henderson Settlement’s Community Outreach program, said Henderson is focused on continuing the essential ministries that meet the needs of area residents at this time: the food pantry, senior meal delivery, the baby pantry and feeding the children who would normally receive meals at summer day camp, which was canceled.

The summer feeding program is now producing 330 meals a day, distributed at four different sites in several communities, to make sure children are getting enough to eat.

The Henderson Senior Center also had to shut down. But the Henderson staff cooks and prepares food, packages it in containers, and then volunteers deliver the boxes to seniors in their communities.

“This is a way for us to give the seniors hot meals and ask if they need anything. It gives us peace of mind and gives them peace of mind, knowing someone cares and looks out for them,” Teague said. They wear masks and gloves to protect the seniors. The UMCOR grant will be used mainly to expand the senior meal delivery and to help community members who need assistance with utilities and paying other bills.

~ Christie R. House is a consultant in writing and editing with Global Ministries. Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement are EngageMI partners.

Last Updated on October 31, 2023

The Michigan Conference