Each month, volunteers from Trinity, Asheville, load up and travel about 100 miles to help people in one of the poorest counties in Western North Carolina.
With one school, one grocery store, and a population of about 8,500, Graham County is
home to much need. Trinity’s Appalachian Regional Mission group volunteers regularly with a MANNA food distribution event on the second Wednesday of each month. They pitch in to hand out groceries to hundreds of people, but food insecurity is one small piece of how poverty affects the people of Graham.
How the mission began
The Appalachian Regional Mission group was formed in 2017 from a desire to help neighbors in the region. Tom Goodrich—a parishioner at Trinity and former administrator for the South American Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church—met with the Rev. Scott White and the Rev. David Henson (now serving at St. James, Hendersonville) to talk about the vestry’s desire to do some mission work. A mission committee was formed, separate from the outreach committee, and came up with three goals after reading Toxic Charity.
“We wanted to 1) find a place of legitimate need; 2) find a group of Christians already trying to help meet those needs; and 3) find a group that wanted our help,” Goodrich said.
After the startup in 2017, the group worked with the Episcopal Farmworkers group in Dunn for a few years.
“We had a lot of enthusiasm and energy, and then the pandemic hit,” Goodrich said.
A new mission
After the pandemic, the group reorganized and prayerfully considered where they should go next.
“We searched for the poorest counties, and then we basically got on the phone and started calling. We found that Graham County had some groups already working,” Goodrich said.
The group met with Methodist pastor the Rev. Eric Reece and other area leaders to offer help to ongoing missions in the area. The Graham Revitalization Economic Action Team (GREAT) oversees much of the effort in providing help for Graham County residents.
“They help people with food, clothes, government assistance. They’re doing anything and everything to help these people, but there’s a lot to do.”
People in the western border counties of North Carolina are surrounded by miles of forest and little development, leaving jobs and economic opportunities scarce. Goodrich spoke of one couple he's met through distributing food. They live on about $800 a month. Both have cancer, and their handicapped son is now living with them.
"There's just hardly anything out there for people to do. Jobs like McDonald’s that high school kids usually get, the parents have to have them. The infrastructure is just not there,” Goodrich said. "I think Jesus calls us to help the needy and the poor."
Goodrich said there is a great need for home repair, computer assistance, and economic development. But it’s a tough ask.
“It’s a little intimidating to go out and do something you’ve never done before, but when you’re out there helping to make a difference, you leave blessed too,” Goodrich said.
What's needed now
About 40 people have signed up for updates from the Appalachian Regional Mission, but interest has recently waned. About six people usually attend the monthly journey to Graham for food distribution, and the group recently changed from meeting once a month to once every other month.
“It’s a real work in progress. There’s a lot of creativity to this, and anyone in the diocese could join in. I’ve identified a couple of areas where we could really use some help, but we don’t have the capabilities at Trinity to match up with what they’ve said are their needs,” Goodrich said.
The mission is currently working with the local advocacy groups to offer a class for computer assistance, but more volunteers are needed to make it viable.
"We had five people working on computer assistance, and now we're down to one," Goodrich said.
The mission also wants to help with home repairs and economic development.
“One of the things I like about it is that we’re helping our own Western North Carolina neighbors. These are people who live here, just trying to make a living and have a life. And it’s just not easy out there,” Goodrich said.
Anyone interested in joining the Appalachian Regional Mission may contact Mr. Goodrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.