I've written about McDowell County West Virginia before. Many of you know that West Virginia very much holds a special place in my heart. There is work that needs to be done.
While many people I know would applaud the closing of a Walmart SuperCenter, because many see the company's unwillingness to pay employees livable wages or provide them with affordable health insurance as unfair labor practices there are other people who will have their lives drastically changed (for more than likely worse) when Walmart closes it's SuperCenter in Kimball, WV.
The McDowell County Commission got a call from Walmart Friday morning. The commission planned to meeting in emergency session Friday afternoon to see if anything could be done. They call the announcement a blow to the county that will cost a lot of jobs. - WV Metro News
The problem with closing a Walmart store in one of the most impoverished communities in the United States is that not only is the largest private employer in the state of West Virginia leaving, but also that a community that lacks basic resources (like clean water) will now lose the ability to not only purchase water but also food. Many of our families, mine included, avoid shopping at Walmart at all costs. Whether it is treatment of employees or you think products produced in Chinese sweatshops are not good for our community just like they are not good for the people producing them, but for some these SuperCenters are a life line.
McDowell Count West Virginia is in rough shape to say the least. Things like lack of economic opportunity, unsafe drinking water, and a population who can barely afford to feed themselves make this community one of the most vulnerable in the nation. Walmart's departure will have a ripple effect throughout the county:
- The largest employer in the state leaves a community = loss of jobs, loss of money going back into the community.
- Loss of money going back into the community = local businesses lay people off
- Local businesses lay people off = even more people relying on public and private charity
- More people relying on public and private charity = strain on organizations already working at capacity
- And so on, and so on....
While some might paint me as being dramatic, let me tell you I'm not. Just ask the Five Loaves and Two Fishes food bank:
“Now we will no longer get any type of fresh produce from Walmart, any type of meat or bread. Everything perishable, Walmart would give us three time a week,”
“Last year we fed over 11,000 people and we turned people away. We are no longer to do emergency services because we don't have; we're all volunteers here, we don't get paid,”
“If we do not have food, we cannot open. And we do not have funding to buy food.”
Even with donations of canned and processed food, the lack of access to fresh food (food that doesn't come with a box and has an expiration date before next year) will add to health problems like obesity and diabetes, as well as teach an entire generation who already lack basic availability to food that the junk people donate (and let's be honest, we don't donate healthy food) is what they need to survive. And if it's news to you, children need fresh fruit and vegetables!
There are some who say these people should "just move". "Why do they still live there" is a question I am asked repeatedly when I talk to people about our church's relationship with Little Sparrow Ministries.
Simply put, they are not leaving because they can't. They can't leave because they lack the money needed to move. There entire family lives there and they would have zero support system if they moved. Think about the last time you moved, was it cheap? How is in a nation where we will spend $585,000,000,000 in FY2016 on defense we have people who literally will not have access to food or water? And McDowell County isn't alone. Just this week social media was buzzing about Flint, Michigan and their lack of safe drinking water.
I don't have any answers for you. There is no silver bullet for McDowell County. All I know to do is to tell you that we, the church, have a responsibility to the people living in McDowell County. The church has a responsibility in this situation (Matthew 12:48-50, John 13:34-35, Psalm 34:6, Proverbs 22:9, Proverbs 30:21, Matthew 19:21). My fear is that this could be the last blow. There is only so much a community, a group of people who love one another and where they live, can take.
I don't have an answer.