Our first shoot was at a place that we have the fortune of being very tight with. The Five Loaves & Two Fishes Food Bank in McDowell County has been an absolute treasure for the area! There we got the chance to sit down with Linda McKinney. Linda runs the day to day operations of the food bank and trust me, anyone would be shocked at the amount of work that goes into a community gift like this. Linda told us that the grant will help them add a few new freezers to their pantry. The freezers will enable them to keep more perishable food products, such as more produce and meats. Linda stressed the importance of not only feeding the people in their community, but the importance of giving them proper nutrition as well. I’ve spent time at the food bank in the past, but it wasn’t until this shoot that I was truly able to take in just how much they do for McDowell County. Linda and Bob McKinney are a huge inspiration and the amazing impact of their work will be felt for years and years to come.
Our second stop was the Big Creek People in Action in War, WV. I got the chance to meet a woman that I had heard so much about. Ms. Marsha Timpson is without a doubt one of the sweetest people I’ve had the fortune of being around. Her work in the community is absolutely tremendous and the impact that the Big Creek People in Action has on the youth in that area is something that truly benefits them in an invaluable way. Marsha told us what receiving the help from WVU has meant to them. Understanding where some of the local kids come from and how effective outside help is in assuring they have the basic care they need is Marsha’s priority. Being from a very small town in McDowell County myself, seeing an organization like the Big Creek People in Action warms my heart beyond words.
Before making our way to the next location, we stopped at a very charming little diner called the Coffee Shoppe. It is located on main street in War, West Virginia, and has all the charm a small town diner can have. We enjoyed two roast beef and gravy dinners with corn bread. It reminded me so much of eating at my grandmother’s house as a kid. Our work takes us to so many places and offers us the chance to try all sorts of different food, but I have to say this meal was near the top of my list because it was so close to my heart. I love these mountains and the people in it so much. This little diner was such a sweet experience!
The next stint of our trip would take us to Raysal, WV. Let me remind you once more that I am from a VERY small town in McDowell County and navigating those types of roads is typically not an obstacle for me. However, there wasn’t much that could prepare us for what the drive through this part of the county would bring.
Years ago, many of the small towns in McDowell County were assigned numbers corresponding with the coal mine that was closest to them. For example; Elbert, WV is also known as number 7. This is the case in a good portion of McDowell County, Raysal being no exception. When needing directions, locals often refer to the town’s number as opposed to its name, making it quite the task to decipher. After getting lost what seemed like 5 or 6 times, we finally found Raysal! Once there, we met Tammy Fleshman of Mountain Heart Community Services. Tammy was offering a class on healthy food preparation and the promotion of clean eating habits. Hearing her speak about her desire to educate people on alternatives to their diets was very motivational. It may have been a task to get there, but once we found Tammy and the wonderful things she is doing in Raysal, it became a huge inspiration.
Wrapping up our shoot in Raysal meant the end of our day in McDowell County. McDowell will always be my home and getting the opportunity to see new parts of it and to meet new people is something I feel very lucky to get to do!
The next day, we packed the car for another adventure. This one was going to be in Clay County. I had always wanted to visit Clay and have heard quite a bit about it, but I hadn’t had the chance until now. JD and I did our usual rundown of every inside joke, funny voice, reoccurring phrase and knee slaps while on the road. This trip also gave us some time to reflect on our previous creative adventures together – years ago – before JJN Multimedia. The both of us were in a heavy metal band together for over three years. We talked about some of our old shows and the awesome experience of getting to record in the studio together. Mainly we talked about how fortunate we are, after all this time, to still have the opportunity to work in a creative capacity together and use our passion in a way that sustains our lives. My fortune in that department is something I’ll never take for granted.
On our way to Clay County, we were lucky to pass some very awesome locations – one being the Cathedral Falls in Gauley Bridge, WV. I wasn’t aware of anything like this being in the area. It came as a definite shock. The falls are absolutely beautiful. We took the time to stop the car and get a quick photo in front of them. That is a place I will definitely revisit one day!
Our first scheduled stop in Clay was at a local church to meet Ann Hall. Ann offers a workshop in clean food preparation and healthy eating habits in Clay. The event also helps in the distribution of food for the community. Clay has experienced some dire economical hardships over the past few years and their only grocery store in the whole county just recently closed. This makes Clay somewhat of a food desert. Locals have at least a 45 min commute in order to buy a load of groceries. Ann makes sure that each family that attends their event at the church leaves with a bag of groceries that they prepare beforehand. This gesture provides an education on health and helps the community by handing out groceries so they can practice some of those healthy meals at home. Meeting Ann and seeing what she and her partners are doing for Clay was moving.
Our second day in Clay County took us to Mary Chilton Park, also known as Spread Park. There we met with Mike Shamblin and Ami Cook. Mike and Ami are with the WVU Extension Service. With their grant, they decided to add a running trail at the park that could be utilized in several helpful ways. We actually arrived as they were laying the last bit of gravel down. At first glance, you can see the amount of care and attention that went into the track. While we were there, a local high school track team was having a track meet. We got to see the trail being used first hand. The implementation of something like that in a park located right beside a river is very special in Clay as it offers people in the community a scenic and peaceful place to engage in physical activity. Mike and Ami are very dedicated to the idea and their work on this project is a great reflection of that.
Our last stop was at the Christ Risen Lord Catholic Church in Clay. There we met with Father Thien and other members of his church as they filled backpacks for local elementary school students. They hand out over 5,000 bags stuffed with food, pencils, paper, and all the essential things school kids need every year. It is an amazing sight to see! The love and dedication that Father Thien and his church members have for the people in their community is a marvel. I was very humbled by them. With their efforts, countless children have what they need for school this year. It is because of programs like this one at Christ Risen Lord Catholic Church, families can receive the much needed helping hand through the hard times like the ones Clay County has faced lately.
This trip was yet another amazing experience. Getting the chance to meet so many wonderful people and witness the incredible and selfless work that they do is more inspirational than I can put into words. Each and every one of the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy grant recipients have demonstrated that with a little assistance, they will continue to work tirelessly and make sure their communities have the resources they need to keep moving forward in our great state. Times may present challenges, but banding together with a common goal can bring about truly amazing change. It starts in our hearts. That is the main thing I learned from these shoots, and that is something I cherish deeply.