Thursday, February 12, 2009

Angel Bags

Teachers in our community noticed last year that some children were coming back to school hungry from the weekend. Someone from Angelville Church learned about it. That church started sending home Angel Bags with those children that the teachers were concerned about.

All the churches in our rural community are very small. (I mean like under 50 in attendance.) And there are no wealthy folk in our community that I am aware of. Many people have are doing well to be able to feed their own families. Obviously, fixing Angel Bags every weekend was too much for one small congregation. Soon other churches volunteered to help out.

Someone must be organizing all this, but it has all been done quietly without fanfare. Our village church was told that February was our month this year. One couple volunteered to take the Angel Bags we prepare up to the school on Fridays, and someone there must distribute them to the children. There are 26 children who will receive the bags of individual sized food products that children can open or microwave for themselves.

Tonight after a small group meeting, I was able to help pack the donated items into double bagged plastic grocery sacks that we’ve been saving for this activity. Since the kids will be off an extra day this Monday for President’s Day, we needed to pack extra this week.

I am sure I can’t remember all the items that we stuffed into the bags. There were Vienna sausages, cups of main dishes for the microwave, mac and cheese, fruit cups, fruit drinks, applesauce cups, gelatin cups, pudding cups, oatmeal packets, popcorn packets, Rice Krispie bars, granola bars, a bright red fresh apple, and so on. A large square table was filled to capacity when we started this evening, but fixing for that extra day reduced the supply on hand. Before next Wednesday’s packing night, we will have to donate again.

It would be good if all parents were able to feed their own kids, but some aren’t able. Some won’t. Regardless, the children are just as hungry whatever the reason for the food shortage in their homes. Fresh cooked food would be more wholesome than these in the bags. Many families in our community hunt to put food on the table, and many garden and can. Some parents may lack these skills or the health to use these skills.

Let me describe our community, which is built around our public grade and high school in the village of Crab Orchard of maybe 300 people. A highway that did go through the village was improved and widened and now bypasses it. But there are plenty of entries into our village, and it is safer now without that traffic. . The school and the library are the heart of the community. There are perhaps half dozen small businesses left in the village. There is a Baptist and Methodist congregation that have been there for generations, and about a year ago a man who had been in Africa came back and decided we needed another church and started one in a house on the edge of the village towards Marion. I do not know anyone who goes there, but I do like the three very simple lighted crosses they put up near their driveway and the cross on the barn there.

The post office closed over a century ago. The blacksmith shop and pool hall that were there when we came in 1962 closed decades ago. So did the gas stations. The two competing groceries went down to one until the owner retired. That store was replaced with a new building next door that sold some few groceries, where we could get milk, bread, or lunch meat in an emergency. We could also stop at one of the tables to join friends for coffee, sandwiches, pizza, or home-made pie. But that helpful place closed a few months ago, and so far no one has bought the building and restarted the business. A former cosmetologist studied for her catering license and now sells plate lunches in her former shop. We are grateful.

As I said, the school and library are what ties together the community, which is made up of country roads and some clusters of houses in many small neighborhoods. In early days when people traveled with horse and buggy, a school and church were needed about every six or seven miles or so. By the time we moved to our farm, those small country schools had consolidated into one unit with three attendance centers offering grades 1 through 12. .

Next the children all came to Crab Orchard on buses. A new building was added on to the old one, and finally we had a kindergarten. The Parent Teacher Organization that existed then started a Reading Center in the left-behind grade school building and was affiliated with the Shawnee Library District. After ten years, our Reading Center became our public library thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers. When the school needed to tear down that old grade school building to build a truly beautiful addition and new gym, the library moved up the road and now has its own location. The school is still crowded, however, with too many kids in some classrooms.

Surrounding Crab Orchard are these many neighborhoods with only the small rural churches left to remind people of the way things were. There’s Pleasant Grove Church and cemetery up near the village of Paulton., which still has some of the mining company-built homes and which has a congregation within the village. Further east is Mt. Pleasant Church at Poor-Do, and Bethel Church is in that vicinity. Angelville is north and east of Crab too.

On east and south in the direction of the towns of Carrier Mills and Stonefort are Coal Bank Church and somewhere over in there is Indian Camp Church, surrounded with beautiful trees and a serene cemetery. Just a few miles south of Crab is Ferrell Church started in 1909 beside an old cemetery already there. When membership at Ferrell got down to three or four elderly folks, it had to close. But a new group started a congregation in the building there a couple years ago with the modern name Lively Stones or something like that. Between our road and the highway is a parallel road where a Presbyterian Church and cemetery known as Shed Church still exists. I like to go there sometimes and meditate.

Because of the mines, roads and cemeteries were sometimes moved. Not being a native, I found it difficult to navigate to weddings and funerals in these little churches on country roads.They mean a great deal to the nearby residents, and I always liked going to them. There are many other churches nearby in Creal Springs and New Dennison and Pittsburg, but I think the ones I mentioned are the only ones in our school district. (Although I may very well have left out one or more.)

We used to be a coal mining community, and we still have a few mines, but many people now have to work at other jobs. Working in the mines was dangerous and dirty, but benefits were good and these jobs were coveted before the mines started closing. Many families had to move out years ago when mines started closing

Over a year ago, the Maytag factory in nearby Herrin closed. Many of those employees got assistance to retrain at the community colleges, but that help has timed out. And the degree doesn’t help if there are no jobs available. The big warehouse facility that used to hire 600 people recently closed in Marion—our large town to the west.

People with jobs are doing well for the most part. Our people are thrifty, and the houses are neat and nice. I rarely see an old car on the roads, and I can’t remember seeing anyone stopped with a flat tire. Many families take it for granted that they own both a car and a pickup truck. Many refugees from the city or even nearby towns have moved in our area because the small school or the rural environment is attractive to them. . Some newcomers live in mobile homes on an acre or so of land, and some live in very fine homes in housing developments. Most don’t need Angel Bags, but I am glad people are generous enough to see that the kids who do can have them.

No comments: