Roan Mountain family gets new beginning
*Community comes together in spirit of giving
By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Last week, members of the community opened their hearts to a Roan Mountain family down on their luck. Thanks to the outpouring of generosity, Donald Baker, Mona Buchanan and their three children now have a new home with electricity and running water. Their children opened Christmas gifts until they actually tired of opening gifts.
   "I'd say that was probably the best Christmas they'll have in a long time," Carter County Sheriff John Henson said Friday.
   "They've got a mobile home they're moving in. They got a tremendous amount of stuff from people that donated through Christmas. Everything went real well. I think we made their Christmas for them.
   "I took three carloads myself. It's amazing how much stuff was taken in: Food, presents, tricycles, bicycles, kids toys and stuff. That's not counting the donations people gave," he said.
   The family was in the process of moving and could not be reached. However, contacted Christmas night, Buchanan said the children were just worn out. The entire family was overawed by the response and grateful to all those that helped to make their Christmas.
   The owner of Mayflower Restaurant called the family last Sunday and invited them down to the restaurant for lunch. "Afterwards, he invited them to the Christmas party that night," said Pete Hodges, son of the owner, George Hodges.
   "The waitresses got together right close to between $90 and $100 in cash and everybody bought them gifts. They got new dolls, little remote control cars. The older son, Dakota, got a watch and a cassette player. My mom was up here cooking all day for everybody. Then we passed out the gifts to them first."
   Hodges said it was a nice feeling to see the children's faces, "especially the little girl. I handed her a brand new doll in a box and her eyes just lit up. You could tell that the kids had not seen toys like that," Hodges said.
   His father offered to give the family a 35-by-7 foot camper. "He told them if they could find a place to set it, he would just give it to them," Hodges said. "If they found a place and they don't need it, he's probably just going to sell it off for a charity" unless another need can be found, he said.
   According to Sheriff Henson, another family, this one in the Hampton community, also could use some help. The father "was in Desert Storm and he's had problems ever since he got back. He has put in for his disability but it hasn't come through yet.
   "They have three kids. They have barely got enough to pay this month's bills. By the time they pay their bills, they're just going to have a couple of dollars left."
   The wife and husband both are recovering from major surgery. Six weeks ago Monday, the wife had part of her intestines removed, she said. "And the seventh day of this month, my husband had a major heart attack."
   Her husband, who was in the National Guard, served in Desert Storm in 1990-91. "He's filing right now for VA benefits, but it takes them awhile to get things like that set up," she said. Since his return from Desert Storm, her husband has had trouble with his stomach and bowels.
   "He's gotten weaker and weaker. He's to the point that he can't do nothing.
   We draw food stamps, so we can buy groceries. We have exhausted AFDC.
   "I draw SSI, but where we've both been sick, the bills got behind. We can pay them, but there's nothing left after that."
   Like many area families needing help, they have their pride. They don't want their name published. "We get by," the woman said. "I can't say there's always a bunch, but we get by."
   When asked whether the family has sufficient food, the woman said, "I won't tell you no tale. I do canning in the summertime so we live on that, too."
   The couple's three sons, ages 11, 14 and 15, probably could use some clothes, she said. "They're going to school in pants from last year and some of them's getting very tight. But to be honest with you, I can't buy my boys no clothes either."
   The woman said her husband, who is now 44, has worked since he was 18 years old. However, after Desert Storm, according to the sheriff, he's just been able to do odd jobs such as carpentry. Now, he's not able to do that, his wife said.
   "Anybody that wants to donate anything, I'll see that the family gets it," Sheriff Henson said. "If they will drop it by the sheriff's department or call, I'll try to pick it up." The sheriff can be reached at 543-2211, or at home, he said.
   Another way the sheriff's department has been reaching out to families in need is by supplying firewood to the elderly and handicapped.
   "As soon as we get started back after the holidays, if we have to cut wood somewhere, I'm going to be looking at giving the people some wood. I've had two or three families contact me saying they needed wood. Older people that can't help themselves and handicapped people are the ones we're going to be helping," he said.
   Members of the work gang are used to cut trees belonging to non-profit organizations, and the wood is distributed among the needy. "That's helping people that need wood, plus it's helping the organization. We're not allowed to work for private individuals. We have to work for non-profit organizations," Henson said.
   "But there's always somewhere they're needing a tree cut out of a cemetery, or a tree blowed down, or a tree fell in the road or something like that, that we've got to go cut out."
   Any organization needing trees removed is asked to contact the sheriff's department. "If they do have one, we'll get to it as soon as we can, weather permitting," Henson said.