Last Friday is the day that NPR and the Washington Post ran their stories on the Year of Giving. I got flooded with emails and comments. My website traffic went through the roof. So many people told me how inspired they were after learning about the Year of Giving. It was a tremendous bright spot in an otherwise melancholy day.
The response has been great. The more media attention it receives, the more people write to me telling me how inspired they are. 99% of what I have received is extremely positive and I am trying to get caught up replying to all the emails. Especially all the wonderful offers to help those on the Lend a Hand page! Thank you so much!
After my cousin’s funeral on Friday, my father and I drove south about 3 hours to Richlands, VA. My mother grew up and was buried there and we went to visit her grave.
Richlands is a small coal mining town in Southwestern Virginia. According to city-data.com in 2008 the population was less than 4,000 and the median household income was $30,637 – half of the state average. I don’t think I need to say more to give you the idea that this is a place that struggles economically.
That evening my father and I decided to stop by the King Kone; a simple place where you have to walk up to the window and order and then take the food back and eat in your car. My father told me that my mother used to love to treat herself to a chili dog there. I thought it was only fitting to order a chili dog for myself.
While we were there, I asked the woman who was waiting on us if she would accept my $10. She got very uncomfortable and said that the owner would never allow her to do that. She nervously was looking over her shoulder and I asked if the owner was there. She confirmed that she was and I asked if I could speak with her.
I gave the owner my card and explained what I was doing to her. She refused and said that they were just too busy to talk to me. I explained that this was a very special place for my mother and made a final plea, but she shook her head “no” and excused herself. As a side note, during the half hour we were there…I think they had 5 customers.
So I went back and approached a couple who were finishing up their dogs in their pick-up truck. I imagine the couple was in their 50s. I said hello and apologized if I was interrupting and explained what I was doing and asked if they would like to participate. The woman, sitting near me in the passenger seat, never looked at me and never said a word. The man remained silent until I finished and just shook his head no and grunted “uh ah” and looked away.
WOW….this was not going to be easy. Although I feel a strange closeness to the town since my mother’s family is from there, its clear that I don’t fit in.
I was now 0 for 3 (or 4 if you count the couple in the truck as two attempts). I looked around and saw a Burger King on one side and a Family Dollar store, a hair salon, and the Richlands Pharmacy on the other. I decided to walk over to the Family Dollar discount store. On my way over I spotted Ashley sitting on a bench in front of the A Wild Hair Salon and Academy. Her easy smile was a huge improvement over my earlier encounters.
The 21-year-old said that she had worked there since she was 16. With her husband laid off from tree cutting for the region’s natural gas wells, the $10 was warmly received. It is tough to make ends meet for them and their 13-month-old boy.
Ashley started working on a regular customer named Samantha. I told Ashley that my mother was from Richlands and we soon had something in common. Both of our grandfathers worked in the mines. “Those are the only jobs that pay well here,” she said. The other woman cutting hair there spoke up and said, “I used to want to work in the mines…it’s good money.” Then Samantha shared that her husband is working in the mines. “Six days a week. It’s terrible hours, he goes in at 1pm and gets out at midnight.”
The economy is worse here than what we saw in Roanoke the day before.
In case you find yourself in Richlands and wonder what you might should try to see, Ashley said, “I don’t know, maybe go up to Overlook Park in Cedar Bluff and walk all the way to the top.” It was late and we wouldn’t be able to do that…but on my list to do next time.
Ashley said she was going to use my $10 on dinner for her family. I just hope she didn’t go to King Kone…the chili dog wasn’t that good actually…kind of raw and chewy.