Avery Ward labels boxes before they are loaded on a trailer.

A local group is bringing hope to Appalachia.

A group from Novum Baptist Church has been gathering blankets, prom dresses and school supplies in preparation for their trip to rural Kentucky April 14. Members of the church have become involved in the Hope for Appalachia mission which helps the needy in the Appalachian mountain areas of Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The faith-based mission hopes to show these impoverished regions hope and love in the form of a “Hope box.”

Hope boxes are small gift boxes of school supplies, hygiene products, socks and small toys that are given to children in these poor mountain areas. The Hope for Appalachia teams will be visiting public schools in Kentucky where many of the children are cared for by grandparents or foster parents and lack basic necessities like food, clothing, socks, shoes and toiletries. Many of the children are homeless or live in cars and are often impacted by addiction and substance abuse which is prevalent in the region. The Novum Church group will be delivering more than 1,000 boxes as well as blankets and prayer shawls for a local nursing home and boxes for the 150 teachers and school staff.

The group originally planned to travel Monday, April 15 with the other Hope for Appalachia teams from Virginia. One small school that had originally planned to be closed April 15 and wasn’t on the delivery schedule contacted team leader Valerie Ward to confirm the visit. Originally, she told the school they wouldn’t be visited until 2020. The members of the Novum Baptist Church group decided to go ahead and put together an additional 250 boxes for Muncy Elementary School and move the trip up a day.

“Originally we had to tell Muncy Elementary that we couldn’t visit until next year,” said Ward. “When the 10 of us talked we decided that waiting a year was not ok. These were some of the neediest kids, so we decided to make another 250 boxes and just leave early so they wouldn’t be left out.”

Most of the group has been involved with the mission before and many have made several trips to the area and have gotten to know teachers and students in the schools.

Temple Murray of Madison said the experience of previous trips has had a powerful impact on her life.

“It definitely changes you forever,” said Murray. “We’ve become Facebook friends with the school so we can see what is going on in their community. You meet these kids and become part of their lives and want to keep up with the good and the bad in their lives.”

Cindie Foster said she was surprised by the level of poverty she saw on previous trips.

“It really struck me how poor these kids are,” said Foster. “They are so thrilled by so many things we take for granted. One little boy was delighted by a pair of socks he received and told me he was so happy because the only other pair he had was on his feet. Even the schools- they may have beautiful new buildings but lack supplies. One had a beautiful library but very few books- All stuff we just take for granted.”

For team leader Ward, one of the most moving aspects of the mission is the chance for the children from Virginia to help the children in Appalachia.

“Last year Mason went and he was like a celebrity,” said Ward, speaking of her nephew Mason Ward. “We all led groups, but the kids just gravitated to Mason. They were more comfortable with kid to kid interactions and talked about baseball and school. It’s so powerful seeing our kids helping the Kentucky kids.”

While most of the Virginia teams started preparation last May, the Madison group had a late start. Many of the 10 had been on other teams before and in January decided to form their own team this year. Official preparation started March 9 and the group has been in overdrive getting everything ready. Despite the late start, the team has everything lined up for the April 14 departure.

The team all agreed that packing the boxes and preparing for the mission was almost as gratifying as giving the boxes to the children.

“It’s always satisfying being able to help others,” said Foster. “So many groups target their giving to people overseas, in Africa or South America. This is helping people pretty close to home. You really start to feel it when you’re packing these boxes. You start to feel the connection.”

“It was a gut thing. It really just felt right,” said Ward. “Everything has really come together. We are really thankful for all the support we’ve gotten. We are very grateful for Cooperative Extension allowing us to use a space at the Carver Center, too.”

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