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Eastern Kentucky Floods: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Eastern Kentucky Floods: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Long after attention from beyond the region dwindles, the people in eastern Kentucky will still need our help. The devastation from flooding is massive, and it will take a long time to recover. For those wanting to help, the most pressing needs in the short term are emergency funds and often hands willing to pitch in. Concerned citizens can donate through a number of organizations, including the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund, the American Red Cross, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, and Save the Children. For the long term, the impacted people and organizations will need sustained support.

Although the people in the mountains have always lived with flooding, this flood was unlike others, wiping out home after home, building after building, leaving many families with nothing. In an inspiring display, people, institutions, organizations, agencies and resources from throughout the region, the state, and the nation have been mobilized, but this “clean up” is just the first stage.  Soon, many people will be making hard decisions about how to rebuild, whether to stay or go, and what their communities are going to look like in the months and years ahead.

For many of us, the question isn’t whether to help but how.

For those who have it in their hearts to volunteer, there is a strong network of nonprofits in Appalachian Kentucky that know these communities and also know how and where to help. Rather than just showing up in these communities, volunteers should connect with nonprofits already working in them, including Breathitt County Disaster Relief, Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, the Eastern Kentucky Flood Information Center (for Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, and Perry counties), the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and the Christian Appalachian Project, among others. Aid is needed in Leslie, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley and Whitley counties as well. Volunteers should come prepared with their own supplies, like gloves and shovels, and should be prepared to not spend the night.

Berea College has deep and abiding connections in the affected counties. A number of Berea students and their families were impacted. We offered those students the opportunity to return early to campus. To their credit, all chose to stay and help their families and neighbors with the recovery process, but now that classes are underway, they are back. Several organizations with which Berea has close connections have also been very seriously impacted, notably Appalshop in Whitesburg, Hindman Settlement School and the Appalachian Artisan Center. Many Bereans have already made their way to these organizations and pitched in to the work of recovery, and we have offered extra vacation days to employees wanting to volunteer. We will also be looking for ways to support these organizations financially. Meanwhile, on campus, the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, the Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS) and the Willis D. Weatherford, Jr. Campus Christian Center will be working to organize the efforts of students who would like to provide volunteer service. In addition, we have more than 80 staff members in our Partners for Education unit living and working in Appalachian Kentucky. Many of those employees were directly impacted, and four of these families lost everything. We have set up a special donation fund so that College employees may support these families.

Recovery in eastern Kentucky will be a marathon, not a sprint. In some places, the destruction is nearly total. Understanding that resources will be needed for an extended period of time, the College will be making substantial funds available through the Mountain Association, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, and directly through local governments in the affected counties. These efforts will support families, schools and businesses. The funding, which will total more than $1 million overall, will be drawn from the College’s reserve funds.

Berea College’s mission calls us to recognize the dignity of all people and also to “engage Appalachian communities, families, and students in partnership for mutual learning, growth, and service.” We therefore trust that the spirit of Appalachian generosity would be there for us if the situation were reversed. Let’s all pitch in where we can.