By Bobby Bordelon
As the national outlook continues to be uncertain, newspapers across Mountain Media News continue to highlight local concerns, fears, and hopes with columns and letters to the editor. As more and more people look to the future with uncertainty, organizations, leaders, and communities are fighting to keep people safe and push each other to help one another.
Writing in the Greenbrier County-based Mountain Messenger, John Manchester called for people to get more involved in their communities as things get more difficult.
“What’s a person to do? Are there tangible ways to help? Absolutely! I suggest you join me in thinking locally—looking for opportunities to help that bolster your local community. There are no hard and fast rules other than the concept: ‘If you see a need, try to meet it.’”
“One of these might be as basic as donating to the food bank in your area. I expect this need will grow significantly if there is no movement on unemployment supplement or eviction moratorium extension legislation. Also we can support our local United Way and community organizations/foundations that provide direct support to people and organizations in need.
“Pay attention to the local organizations and small businesses that you value and which make your community vibrant. What local businesses and organizations (thinking arts and culture here) would cause you to be crushed if they closed up shop? Many of these are hanging on by a thread now because, though the economy has reopened, it is certainly not business as usual pre COVID days. … Less money is coming in, but the bills are still there. Seeing more out of state plates on cars downtown is encouraging but cannot mask the fact that many small businesses are 35 to 40 percent down from last year because of losing the time the economy was on lockdown and the restrictions in place now while reopened.
“The challenge for small businesses and organizations is pretty basic—cash flow. One specific, helpful action we can take is putting money right now into their cash registers. But maybe we don’t need a specific product or service right now. I suggest we identify specific businesses that we value and have patronized in the past and buy a gift certificate or gift card from them right now.
“One specific action I am taking, and one I encourage you to do as well if your financial situation allows it, is to buy a batch of gift cards/gift certificates from locally owned businesses to use in the future or for give away. This infusion of cash will be well appreciated. There is never a better time than now to think local.”
The local support often leads to more local support; after receiving a gift card, Joseph Mazzella, writing in the Clay County Free Press, took his two grown sons and daughter to a sit down restaurant.
“The meal was delicious and we all had a good time just being together,” wrote Mazzella. “When the waitress brought the check I looked down at it; the gift card covered almost all of it. I reached into my wallet to get enough cash to cover the rest. I saw two bills in the front of it. The first would cover the rest of the bill and give the waitress a nice tip. The second bill was much larger so I reached down to pick out the first one.
“At that moment my mind flashed back to 30 years before. I was working as a busboy in a restaurant much like the one we were in now. It was long hours of hard work for low pay. I went home just barely making enough to feed my young family. I also remembered how more than once I saw the waitresses counting their meager tips while worrying about how they were going to pay the rent and buy their kids the things they needed. I remembered the pain in their eyes and saw the sadness in their faces at the end of the day.
“I blinked and was back in the present again, my fingers touching the smaller bill in my wallet. I smiled, pushed it back down, and picked out the much larger bill. I folded it around the gift card and covered both of them with the check.
“As we all got up from the table I handed them to the hard working waitress. ‘You keep the change,’ I said with a smile and a happy heart. We are all one family in this world.”
A critical factor to being able to help your neighbors is knowing what’s going on in your neighborhood. Writing the Watoga Trail Report, Ken Springer in the Pocahontas Times supported the role of a local newspaper in bringing communities together.
“Local news is special and something we cannot take for granted,” wrote Springer. “If you want national and international news, you have endless choices. For readers of various political persuasions, there are cable stations, radio stations, and newspapers that cater to nearly anyone’s political proclivities. For those who prefer their national news raw and unfiltered, good luck. Most of it is delivered to us by talking heads who play loose and fast with the facts to suit their particular world view. Much of the national news requires critical thinking and that is a taxing exercise. That fact alone makes reading a local paper more pleasure than pain.”
Being a part of the community they are reporting on keeps these smaller newsrooms on their toes, making sure to get the little details correct.
“One of the major differences between large-city newspapers and The Pocahontas Times is that the writers and editor have to face their readers every day,” Springer wrote. “Small town newspapers must maintain a certain degree of sensitivity not generally exercised by the large metropolitan papers and tabloids. As one reporter for a small-town newspaper in Wyoming said, ‘You have to remember that the person you are talking to, is probably related to the person you are talking about.’”
The role of papers also extends to getting needed information to people about things that directly affect their lives. Although local volunteered support can go a long way, another key aspect is an organized response from governments, covering people’s basic needs as the pandemic and economic damage continue.
“The virus is still raging,” Manchester explained in his letter. “Vaccines are being developed, but we will not know when they will be available or their effectiveness for a while. Schools are being pushed to reopen. Congressional leaders are grappling with whether there should be further federal legislation to remedy problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal $600/week unemployment supplement has expired as has the moratorium on rent evictions. The Paycheck Protection Program that helps businesses retain workers and keep their businesses afloat expires this week. Local and state governments are struggling to pay for expenses they have incurred related to the virus.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings. The moratorium, which began on Monday, August 10 and will remain in effect through Monday, September 7, halts all eviction proceedings related to failure to pay rent. Governor Northam requested this moratorium in a letter to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons on July 24.
“Today’s decision comes at a time when we are still battling this public health crisis and need all Virginians to maintain safe, stable housing,” said Northam. “As the ongoing Congressional stalemate leaves hundreds of thousands of Virginians without federal housing protection or unemployment relief, this is a critical step towards keeping families safely in their homes. I am grateful to the Virginia Supreme Court for granting this order, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly this month to develop more permanent legislative protections for Virginia homeowners and tenants.”
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice urged against evictions, asking landowners, landlords, and banks to be patient with those who may not be able to pay rent and are facing the possibility of being evicted during a pandemic.
“We have people that are scared to death because they are going to get evicted from their homes or apartments,” said Justice. “I would plead with those landlords not to proceed down this course. It’s not right. You’ve got people that are on unemployment and everything and they’re waiting because now their checks and their payments are being somewhat suspended–those bonus dollars that they need very badly. “They are drivers to our economy. We absolutely need to help these people. And so, from the standpoint of our landowners, our landlords, and our banks, please give these people a pass for right now. They really, really need it.”
As Congress goes into recess in the midst of the crisis, the Food for All coalition in West Virginia pushes for more food security. Made up of a broad and diverse coalition of individuals and organizations across West Virginia who believe that no West Virginian should ever go without access to adequate, nutritious food, Food for All called on Senators to truly examine the HEALS Act as an adequate successor to the CARES Act passed in March.
“Our coalition has dedicated itself to improving food security outcomes for our friends and neighbors across the Mountain State through public policy for the past three years, and the food access situation in our state has never been more dire than it is right now. Many of your constituents are on the brink, their incomes have collapsed, their car, rent and mortgage payments are delayed and many are facing an imminent threat of eviction. We are hearing about families needing to skip meals or accessing foods with very low nutritional content due to its lower costs. While charitable food agencies have stepped in to try and fill the void, it is simply not enough to address the problem.”
“We are extremely concerned at the unacceptable response presented by the leadership of the United States Senate last week. While we understand negotiations are ongoing, the HEALS Act as it was released will exacerbate the problems we are seeing around household food insecurity in West Virginia. The vital boost to unemployment benefits that your constituents relied on to make ends meet during this trying time have now expired without a viable alternative proposed. This is a shameful revelation of the lack of priority given to those most vulnerable to the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by our Senate majority leaders.”
Food for All called to bolster the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP),
– A 15 percent increase in maximum Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
– Extension of unemployment benefits originally passed in the CARES Act.
– Increase the FMAP for Medicaid match to 12 percent.
– Additional direct aid for county and local governments providing critical services during the pandemic.
Despite all of the issues missed in the Congressional response to the crisis, people still have one another to turn to for help. Writing in the Shinnston Journal and Harrison County News, Columnist Jim Hunt wrote about how his granddaughter taught him a simple lesson that could prove to be the way communities take care of each other.
“My granddaughter Avery has been staying with us for the last week and I have learned a new 4-letter word from her,” wrote Hunt. “No, it’s not what you might be thinking, it’s a word that you probably don’t think of in that way. The 4-letter word that my granddaughter taught me is the word ‘sure.’”
“As we planned out the week, I asked Avery if she would want to get up in the morning and go walk the track at Robert C. Byrd High School with me. Without pausing, she said ‘sure.’ I then asked her if she wanted to pick up breakfast at McDonalds after we finished working out. She looked up at me and said, ‘sure.’ I explained that I had several Zoom meetings scheduled for the week and asked her if she was ok with quietly watching television while I was on my calls. Once again, she said ‘sure.’ I thought about her answers to these questions and how refreshing it was to hear her instant agreement when thinking about her week in West Virginia. How many times do we answer ‘sure’ when asked a question?”
“The word ‘sure’ is such a powerful word. When you say it, it transmits a willingness to help. It puts people at ease and lets them know that they matter in your life. It doesn’t require a discussion or explanation.
“My experience with my granddaughter has inspired me to go a week with the same positive attitude and when asked a question, to respond ‘sure.’ Already, it has improved my attitude and on a recent call, someone asked if I would be willing to do some research into a problem that one of my colleagues was having. I quickly answered ‘sure’ and I think I surprised the people on the call. I noticed that after I was so willing to step up, others on the call seemed to take the cue and each person seemed a little more willing to ‘volunteer’ for a task.”