By Les Gura
It wasn’t long after Rev. David Blackburn arrived at his new post as director of missions for the Ashe Baptist Association that he saw the difficulty people in his rural county were having finding work.
He wanted to do something to help them with food and clothing while they pursued the education they needed to get back in the work force. And he wanted to get trained volunteers to help in other aspects of their lives.
What was borne from his thoughts 15 years ago was Ashe Really Cares, or ARC, a faith-based agency that today provides many types of support, and counts some 100 churches of all faiths as contributors. From 77 families served per month in its first year, ARC now provides for 500 families, reaching nearly 1,000 people per month.
“We didn’t feel just giving folks food is the answer,’’ Blackburn says. “We wanted to get to know the whole person, to know their situation, and help them get out of the cycle of just asking for help.’’
From Christmas Toys to Handicapped Ramps
Today ARC will do everything from giving families free food and clothing to providing kerosene heaters to building handicapped ramps. ARC and the Ashe Baptist Association are lead agencies in Ashe County’s annual Christmas Project. The $100,000 Christmas Project provides $100 worth of toys, clothing and other items to 1,000 children each year whose families are at the poverty level.
“Ashe is a very rural county,’’ says Pat Miller, who has been director of ARC since shortly after it opened. “We don’t have a lot of job opportunities. A lot of people are carpenters and painters, so in the winter they don’t have a lot of work. And the seasonal workers don’t have work, either.
The food pantry and clothing store is located in West Jefferson, at the headquarters of the Ashe Baptist Association, and is served by nearly 70 volunteers every week. Families in need come to the pantry and store on an alternating month basis, and those in dire need are directed to other food pantries in the county.
“We’re just trying to get them through the tough spots,’’ Miller says. Although some families drop out because of improved situations, ARC averages nine to 12 new families every month.
Miller herself is well aware of the problems that Ashe County faces in terms of employment. In 2013, Gates Rubber Company announced it was closing its Ashe County plant, putting 250 people out of work by early this year. Miller’s husband, who worked at Gates Rubber for 32 years, was laid off in March.
Blackburn says one of the keys to ARC is being more than a government program. Miller and the ARC volunteers offer a different type of assistance.
“As you know, especially lately, the economy has taken a downturn. A lot of folks find themselves in need for the first time,’’ Blackburn says. “Some people come here just so they can talk to us. We can pray with them, be a friend to them. Really, they come because we’re an organization that cares about their needs.’’