Rose Hart was born and raised in Marshall County. She was a
mail carrier for 30 years until she had to retire early for health reasons. When
a major flood struck southern regions of the state in 2001, she said she felt
called to organize community relief for flood victims in the southern part of
“So I called my co-founder Diane Reineke and asked her about
what we should do and she said, ‘What did God tell you?’ I said, ‘Well, he said
take up a collection.’ And then she said, ‘Well then what’s your problem?’”
“So I got the idea to call all five mayors in Marshall
County and if they would allow me to solicit donations in their communities without
paying for permits—that would be great, because I didn’t have any money. They
all agreed! And when I called, all five mayors answered the phone personally.
It wasn’t the secretary. So then I knew I was onto something.”
Hart says she loves Nike because of their slogan, “Just Do
It.” She says that’s what she did. In thirty days she and some friends had
collected 45 tons of donated materials and six thousand dollars. The 30-day
relief effort has turned into ten years of outreach to low-income families.
“Now we have a presence in 28 counties with 57 delivery
areas. We make about 70 trips a year to somewhere in the state and also into
Pike County, KY. We haul about 175-200 tons a year of donated materials.”
Appalachian Outreach Inc. is the name of the non-profit that Rose
Hart and co-founder Diane Reineke began. Hart explains that they serve counties
where they’ve found contacts and partnering agencies. They function largely as
a collection and distribution house for donated goods. Most donations are made
by individuals but they also network with area hotels and motels and various
businesses. Today the organization rents space in the old Giant Eagle in
Moundsville to store and organize the donations. Hart describes the scene.
“Organized chaos,” Hart laughs.
|warehouse in old Giant Eagle
“We have a section where we have tables and chairs, we have
a section where we have couches and love seats. We have a section where we have
school supplies and desks. Housewares, bedding, toys. We do a lot with toys. We
start collecting the day after Christmas for next year. So when mom and dad
clean out that toy box we hope they’ll remember us for that child next
Christmas that needs that gently used toy or bicycle.”
Hart also has a room dedicated to disaster-relief cleaning
supplies, a room dedicated to supplies for families with newborn babies, and a
room dedicated to their shoebox Santa project.
Hart says in 2002 when someone came to her and said there
were many residents in the state in need of basic hygiene products — items you’re
not allowed to buy with food stamps—she came up with the idea of shoebox Santa.
The organization now delivers gift-wrapped boxes with supplies and cards to
individuals every Christmas season.
“We started with 136. Took them to Boone County, to
Whitesville—a little mission there—and they did an outreach program with them.
And then we kept adding to that. Last year, it was 9,865. And this year’s goal
is ten thousand.”
Hart says it’s a taxing project, but with so many state residents
that have no income—especially women—the pay-off is well worth the efforts. She
remembers one woman, Kate, who had no family and was suicidal.
“Somehow a lady came up the road and told Kate they were
having a little party at church today down in the valley. And they’ll give us
little baskets of fruits and vegetables and we’ll have a nice lunch. Kate gave
her all the reasons she couldn’t go—because she wanted to check out.”
“The lady got Kate in the car. So they went down to
Whitesville. They had their nice meal. Actually, I had to cook it. I didn’t get
to go to the give-away, but they had their nice meal and when she went to leave
this nice grandmotherly lady gave her this wrapped shoebox. Kate gave all the
reasons she didn’t need one. But the lady put it in her bag and she took it
home. And she sat there the whole month of December with this pretty box in her
lap because it was the only pretty thing she owned.”
“Christmas comes and Kate has a problem: do you rip the paper
off or do you save the paper? Kate took it off gently because it was really
pretty. When she lifted the lid the first thing she found was a Christmas card
that said: From your sister in Christ. Kate told me that she held onto that
card the whole day of Christmas and cried. She had family, she didn’t have to
Hart says the next year Kate became the woman who handed out
boxes to others in need.
Hart has collected one story after another of generosity and
gratitude in isolated pockets of West Virginia.
“So the dream of Appalachian Outreach and of mine and
Diane’s is to build a network where we care for each other and share what we
have in one community with the needs of another community—that we can be one
Hart says the biggest challenge her organization faces is security
and stability. She says with the help of several legislators, grants, and the
volunteers from Wheeling Jesuit University and other local area schools,
they’ve made it this far, and she has faith that somehow they’ll continue to
find ways to continue their work. The organization also has a storehouse to generate revenue
for the organization.
The Appalachian Outreach Storehouse is a project designed to
make home repairs and additions more affordable. For a small membership fee and
cost recovery donation, homeowners and organizations have access to a variety
of home improvement materials.
Rose Hart is the Executive Director of Appalachian Outreach.
“We have a lot of building supplies here for your home. You
can come in here and get a window, kitchen and bath cabinets or a door or paint
or something of that nature. If we help you maintain your home we maintain the
community and we also create sales for local vendors.”
Hart says you can’t get everything you would need for home
improvement, but their surplus products are affordable, and there are no income