Call it social media magic or even a miracle.
But Linda McKinney couldn’t believe her eyes when, right out of the blue, a stranger offered to donate – and even help transport – a greenhouse, because he’d read about local efforts to raise money to buy one for the community.
And it’s only the beginning.
Approximately $1,500 has been donated toward helping purchase the greenhouse, mostly from young people who are using their own money to help their community.
“There are lots of $10, $20 and $40 donations from them. And a lot of these kids really don’t have any money to give, but there they go doing it anyway. So we know how much this means to them,” she said.
“Help Us Grow McDowell County” hopes to purchase a high tunnel structure to increase their hydroponic agriculture efforts – growing crops in water, a concept that is now being introduced to Kimball Elementary School students as well as community members.
“You should see those kiddos, and how their faces just light up by learning about all of this. In fact, it really blows the minds of older people too,” she said with a laugh.
It’s part of ongoing efforts by the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank, headed up by McKinney and supported by family members as well as lots of other local folks striving to offer agricultural education – and an outreach program that’s especially important now.
That’s because the nonprofit organization routinely feeds half of the county’s 22,000 residents – but about one-third of the food came from the Kimball Walmart, which closed at the end of January and took about 140 jobs away from the area.
In 2015, the organization served 3,753 families and they were provided with 303,290 pounds of perishable foods allocated from Operation Blessing, and 81,232 pounds of food items through the Feed America Program, Walmart.
Vegetables grown locally as well as at the food bank site are also given to local people to supplement their diets, she said.
Her son, Joel McKinney, a veteran who moved home to help his neighbors, created Roadside Farms in 2014 – a partnership with the food bank that also aims to establish a local market and teach others about agriculture.
Getting children interested – herbs, and greens – especially dinosaur chard because they love the name and want to taste it – is important for the future, because coal isn’t coming back anytime soon.
People who still live there are nervous about the future – 13 coal mines have closed recently – and even more folks may soon have to move out of state, she said.
McKinney isn’t sure what to expect on Jan. 20 when the food bank provides free food – for the first time after the retail giant’s closure. People had previously routinely camped out, some gathering at midnight, just to make sure they would receive a ticket for the distribution.
Still, she’s optimistic.
“We have a great group of volunteers in the community and we just do what we have to do to feed the people.”
“This is about your fellow man, and giving everyone a hand up. People are hungry 24-hours, seven days a week so they have got to be fed. So if I have the food and God provides it, we give it to them. I feel this is what I’m called to do. It’s my passion, and I can’t quit feeding people,” she said.
Supportive messages also keep on coming, from far and wide.
In fact, it’s been nearly non-stop beeping as messages arrive, she said.
It’s also been tough getting off the phone. At one point, she turned it off for a while to get some sleep, but the phone vibrated literally nonstop as folks called to talk about the article and making a difference in the impoverished mountain community.
“We are just amazed at them and how many we’ve gotten from people who want to reach out. It just touches our heart so much,” she said.
A former Ravenswood resident, who now lives in Washington, perhaps said it best, according to McKinney.
“He said he couldn’t believe that story, and how it brought tears to his eyes. It even made him want to come back home,” she said.
The work continues, however.
Especially since the greenhouse offered as a donation won’t work – it isn’t the right size for the hydroponic equipment, sadly. It also has wooden support beams instead of steel ones, she said.
A dream come true, she said, would be to acquire one from Rimol Greenhouse Systems in New Hampshire that measures at least 30×90 and is at least 9 feet high on the sides to house the hydroponic towers. It would probably need to be about 12 feet high overall.
Looking ahead, McKinney and her family’s vision is to teach community members to grow their own food using alternative agriculture techniques – so they will never go hungry – shines like the moon on the horizon – even if it is just beyond the mountains for now, she said.
“We just have to keep moving ahead,” McKinney said.
“All of this is all about your story, because everywhere I click it’s there – We Heart West Virginia.”