McDowell deals with high levels of poverty
Volunteers sort food during the fourth food bank distribution organized by the Council of Southern Mountains this year
December 18, 2012 ·
The US Census Bureau says 33 percent of McDowell County residents lived below the poverty level between 2007 and 2011. That’s well above the state’s average at 17 percent.
In 1950, McDowell had the second highest population in the state with close to 100,000 residents.
Today a little more than 20,000 people live in McDowell. The population fell drastically when many coal mines shut down in the region, and jobs disappeared.
“Guys I need some more help in here,” Regina Sanders with the Council of Southern Mountains said as she coordinated volunteers. Sanders is helping to distribute food.
It takes a team effort to distribute hundreds boxes in one day.
Volunteers sort through food and fill boxes with things like eggs, donuts, pizza, meat, and bread from the Mountaineer Food Bank which distributes food to 48 counties across the state. The council is using the gymnasium of the Big Creek People in Action building.
Inmates from the Stevens Correctional Center in Welch are loading the boxes in the back of pickup trucks and cars that belong to other volunteers. Some will take the food to recipients’ houses, others will go to churches or some central community pickup location.
“Without them we couldn’t really do it," Sanders said, "because it’s a lot of lifting and walking and stuff.”
“They’ve been great with that.”
Sanders says the council tries to distribute the food two to three times a year, as long as the budget allows. The food is donated but the council pays for transportation and shipment.
During the last distribution Sanders says more than a thousand boxes went to help families and individuals mostly in McDowell but some in Mercer County.
“Some of them is low income," Sanders said, "some of the families that work but they fall through the crack where they are right on the borderline of being able to get some type of assistance like food stamps or what have you."
"There’s a lot of people that work that still needs assistance one time or another.”
Sanders has worked with social services for about 12 years but she’s lived in McDowell basically her whole life.
“There's a lot of people that I know in this area so I pretty much know the ones that’s in need and some that just does the system because they can just do it,” Sanders said.
“Some of them that we help it’s some people that know that it’s a give out or whatever and so they do that."
“They come to get it but where I live in the area I pretty much know the people that for instance work but could use a little more assistance. “
Sanders says the majority of people are truly in need.
“We just don’t have enough jobs available in the area," she said. "I think that has something to do with it. There is people out here that want to work and can work but it’s nothing really here for them to do. So I think that’s one of the challenges just not enough resources for us as far as jobs."
“It’s hard," McDowell County single mother Scarllett Drawdy said. "It takes a toll on you."
“I’m doing charity work for the works program through welfare," she said. "We help people from all types of needs anywhere from just elderly to single mothers single parents people out there on the struggle and we just try to help our best.”
At 20-years-old, Drawdy has been a mother for about four years. She’s on public assistance and was placed at the Big Creek People in Action organization to work through the West Virginia Works program, which operates through the state Department of Health and Human Services. It offers mostly cash assistance to help needy families get back on their feet.
She worked to peel potatoes, and sort items and she too will go home with a box of food.