Earlier this month, the United States again witnessed the havoc natural disasters cause, including the devastation of lives and homes ripped to pieces by the recent tornadoes that have pummeled the middle of our country. But what we haven’t seen are the after-effects to areas that are already poverty-stricken and what remains for years after the cleanup has been completed, after FEMA has come and gone and after a semblance of normalcy returns.
In Martin County, Kentucky, the March 2, 2012, tornadoes that hit the area destroyed 42 homes and damaged another 135. While other areas of the country were harder hit, Martin County has more natural disasters than the U.S. average, with a total of 21, compared to other area’s average of 12, including the coastal regions of the United States. Martin County is one of the poorest counties in the state and nation — in fact, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty from the porch of a family’s home in Inez, Kentucky.
The small hamlets of Beauty and Lovely, Kentucky, on the Martin County, Kentucky and West Virginia border, were especially devastated by the 160 mph winds that ripped through the area. Now, two weeks later, families are still picking up the pieces of their broken homes and lives and struggling to rebuild.
Last week, the non-profit Rockin’ Appalachian Mom Project (RAMP) was in Martin County to help with the tornado relief efforts. The devastation is overwhelming and breaks your heart. These children and families struggle every day with intense poverty, and to see even more hurdles thrown their way is incredibly sad. RAMP is uniquely positioned to help out with food, water, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products and other immediate necessities in the after-math of the tornado. When called upon, RAMP’s supporters, including Whole Foods Market and the Capital Area Food Bank, were also able to respond with donations that went directly to the families most deeply affected by the tornado.
But what remains of the homes and the lives that were destroyed?
Martin County’s average per capita income is $14,785 and more than 33 percent of residents live below the poverty level. Many that were affected do not have insurance. How are families that struggle so much on a daily basis, many which can barely afford food to feed their children, and make rent or a mortgage payment, cover the cost of rebuilding? Those are the questions that confronted us daily while we were working side-by-side with the local residents that volunteered their time to help unload the supplies RAMP brought.
RAMP’s focus is working to combat poverty in the Appalachian region of the U.S., and specifically Martin County, through nutrition education and economic development. Housing isn’t typically an area covered by RAMP’s non-profit mission. But this past week, we saw a need that couldn’t be ignored. Through working with the local residents and a wonderful pastor at Trinity Church in Martin County, RAMP was able to secure a home for a family with three teenage children that lost everything. Local residents are volunteering to fix up the home, and the family is moving in shortly. The family is so thankful, and a terrible situation was made a little better. However, the need in the community is still great. Residents that lost their homes are faced with little housing options, and a long road to rebuilding. We left Martin County at the end of the week knowing that we made a difference — a small difference, but a life-altering difference to one family. While the need of the residents of Martin County is huge, this past week still showed us that no matter how bleak, through the power of a community, neighbors, and sometimes a little outside intervention, there is strength in numbers. For that, we encourage everyone to get involved.
Amy Guerrieri is the founder of the Rockin’ Appalachian Mom Project (RAMP) and ceo of Rockin’ Water™, a children’s vitamin-enhanced flavored water. To learn more about RAMP’s efforts in Appalachia, visit http://www.RAMPAmerica.org.